Experiences of the deaf in early modern England

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Some recent studies have highlighted the importance of sounds for social interaction in the early modern period, yet the consequences for deaf members of society are rarely questioned. Those without the ability to hear lived in a world of sounds controlled by those who heard. This article explores the extent to which the deaf were socially integrated in English society between the mid-sixteenth and mid-eighteenth centuries. It also assesses the disadvantages suffered by those born deaf, or who lost their hearing. Crucial to the discussion is an understanding that experiences were not uniform, as the term deafness covered a wide spectrum of conditions, from temporary hearing loss to profound congenital deafness. Clearly some were more disabled than others, but their disadvantages were more to do with traditional social divisions of wealth and status, rather than the extent of their hearing impairment. Fundamentally, the most inhibiting factor was an inability to apprehend words.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)493-510
Number of pages18
JournalThe Historical Journal
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - Sep 2003

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