Marion Andrea Schmidt
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Of races and genocides
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In the 1880s, Alexander Graham Bell feared that deaf people’s intermarriage might lead to a deaf race. In the early 2000s, geneticist Walter Nance feared, on the contrary, that genetic technology might be genocidal for Deaf culture. These two figures mark the beginning and the end point of this cultural history of hereditary deafness research. In the century between, scientists made immense progress in identifying the genetic mechanisms underlying the inheritance of deafness. They uncovered that there were not only one or two responsible genes, but hundreds of different forms and syndromes. Yet there is a twist in this simple story of progress. What it means to carry one of the genes for deafness, and what should be done about it, differed and differs greatly. What has influenced these perceptions during the past century and what is at stake in researching genetic deafness? How, during the past century, have ideas about disability, difference, and citizenship changed, where did eugenics end, and, perhaps, neo-eugenics begin, and what do genes mean for our identity?

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Eradicating deafness?

Genetics, pathology, and diversity in twentieth-century America


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