Barbara Bates Seminar Series

Hearing Happiness: Deafness Cures in American History 

Speaker: Jai Virdi, PhD, University of Delaware
Date + Time: Wednesday, March 13, 2024, 4:00pm - 5:30pm, EDT
Location: Hybrid; Class of 1978 Orrery Pavilion, Kislak Center, Van Pelt Library + Zoom webinar

Abstract: During the late nineteenth century, entrepreneurs began to glut the direct-to-consumer medical market with a plethora of remedies they professed could miraculously cure deafness. They claimed their remedies and machines fostered a world of unbridled optimism for providing “hope” to deaf ears. Even as medical specialists denounced these “cure-all” treatments as quackery in its finest form, the messages of restoring hearing would transfer over to the hearing aid industry. Focusing on the marketing of deafness cure—hearing trumpets, electrotherapy apparatuses, and hearing aids—this presentation unravels the many ways deaf people sought to restore or gain hearing. This history provides broad context for understanding the lived experiences of deaf people and how cultural pressures of normalcy significantly stigmatized deafness. 

Bio: Born in Kuwait to Sikh parents, Jaipreet Virdi lost her hearing at age four to bacterial meningitis. By age six, her working-class family immigrated to Toronto, Ontario where she would later attend a school for deaf and hard-of-hearing children. A product of “mainstreamed” education, Virdi learned to lip-read and rely on her hearing aids. She attended public high schools then received her Bachelors’ degree in the philosophy of science from York University. After graduation, she took time off to work in marketing and fashion merchandising, before deciding to return to school. She received first her masters, then her doctorate, from the Institute for the History and Philosophy of Science and Technology at the University of Toronto. She is currently an Associate Professor in the Department of History at the University of Delaware where she teaches courses on disability histories, the history of medicine, and health activism. Her first book, Hearing Happiness: Deafness Cures in History was published in 2020 by the University of Chicago Press.  

Register Here

Please note, a virtual ASL interpreter will be available during this event. For other accommodation requests please contact Elisa Stroh at [email protected] or (215) 898-4502.