Hearing Happiness: Deafness Cures in History (Paperback)
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Weaving together lyrical history and personal memoir, Virdi powerfully examines society’s—and her own—perception of life as a deaf person in America.
At the age of four, Jaipreet Virdi’s world went silent. A severe case of meningitis left her alive but deaf, suddenly treated differently by everyone. Her deafness downplayed by society and doctors, she struggled to “pass” as hearing for most of her life. Countless cures, treatments, and technologies led to dead ends. Never quite deaf enough for the Deaf community or quite hearing enough for the “normal” majority, Virdi was stuck in aural limbo for years. It wasn’t until her thirties, exasperated by problems with new digital hearing aids, that she began to actively assert her deafness and reexamine society’s—and her own—perception of life as a deaf person in America.
Through lyrical history and personal memoir, Hearing Happiness raises pivotal questions about deafness in American society and the endless quest for a cure. Taking us from the 1860s up to the present, Virdi combs archives and museums in order to understand the long history of curious cures: ear trumpets, violet ray apparatuses, vibrating massagers, electrotherapy machines, airplane diving, bloodletting, skull hammering, and many more. Hundreds of procedures and products have promised grand miracles but always failed to deliver a universal cure—a harmful legacy that is still present in contemporary biomedicine.
Weaving Virdi’s own experiences together with her exploration into the fascinating history of deafness cures, Hearing Happiness is a powerful story that America needs to hear.
About the Author
Jaipreet Virdi is assistant professor of history at the University of Delaware. This is her first book. Find her on Twitter at @jaivirdi or visit her website www.jaivirdi.com.
“In part a critical memoir of her own life, this archival tour de force centers on d/Deafness, and, specifically, the obsessive search for a “cure”… This survey of cure and its politics, framed by disability studies, allows readers—either for the first time or as a stunning example in the field—to think about how notions of remediation are leveraged against the most vulnerable.”
— Public Books
"Engaging . . . A sweeping chronology of human deafness fortified with the author’s personal struggles and triumphs."
— Kirkus Reviews
"Part memoir, part historical monograph, Virdi’s Hearing Happiness breaks the mold for academic press publications."
— Publishers Weekly
“In her insightful book, Virdi probes how society perceives deafness and challenges the idea that a disability is a deficit. . . . [She] powerfully demonstrates how cures for deafness pressure individuals to change, to ‘be better’.”
— Washington Post
"Hearing Happiness provides a welcome extended view of the medical-technological impetus to“fix” deafness, revealing an unsettling historical continuity concerning the perversities and shortcomings of deafness cures over the last two centuries. For this, Hearing Happiness is a resounding success, exploring the deep ambivalences that often arise from normalization projects and their attendant medical technologies."
— ISIS: A Journal of the History of Science Society
"Informative and engaging."
— Ms. Magazine
"The most striking thing about Virdi’s book is how it confirms that hearing loss isn’t a minor annoyance that afflicts a few people. Rather, with tremendous archival work, she shows us that, over the past three centuries, Anglo-American culture has been virtually obsessed with trying to cure deafness."
— Times Higher Education
"This unique book combines autobiography with broader history. Virdi traces her own personal history along with the history of treatments, assistive devices, and attempted cures for deafness in the U.S. from the 1860s to the present."
— Book Riot
"Offers a well-illustrated history of the marketing of hearing aids, particularly in North America. The material proves to be remarkably rich, and also rather troubling. . . . An enlightening book."
— Times Literary Supplement
"Virdi’s book offers an educational and personal exploration of the cultural history for treatment of deafness. She provides an engrossing examination of the remedies and ministrations that display the spectrum of diversity within the deaf community. Virdi’s research proffers a strong voice for every person who is impacted by the inability to hear."
— Story Circle Network
"[Virdi] guides us through the history of deafness cures as both a historian immersed in the archive as well as a deaf woman with her own experiences navigating today’s landscape of treatments and so-called cures. It’s a special gift for a history like this. Virdi is interested in the efficacy of various deafness cures only inasmuch as they demonstrate the huge variety of choices and experiences deaf and hard of hearing people have had in navigating a hearing world. That is, this is not a book about debunking quackery. It is something much more interesting: a history of who makes decisions about what is normal, who is designated impaired or disabled, who determines such criteria, and how people who experience different types of hearing loss have understood their own bodies and identities."
— Lady Science
“Hearing Happiness is as much a personal memoir as it is a contribution to science, technology, and the history of medicine in North America from roughly the eighteenth through the mid-twentieth centuries.”
“Hearing Happiness… gives us analytical tools to be able to write history and political tools to investigate how illness, abnormality or disability is created in today’s society.”
“Hearing Happiness is a spell-binding book of research and stories. . . . In positioning her own story so centrally to the book, Virdi consolidates the power of her argument, and it operates as a political intervention into deafness as well as being a brilliant contribution to the historiography of deafness.”
“Poetically weaving her own experiences as a deaf person into a history of hearing loss, Virdi makes a compelling argument that deafness is as much a cultural construct as it is a physical phenomenon. Rigorously researched and eminently readable, Hearing Happiness is packed with historical gems that will fascinate any reader.”
— Lindsey Fitzharris, author of 'The Butchering Art'
“Everyone needs to read this fascinating history of hearing loss, technology, medicine, and audism. In examining deafness cures and sharing her own personal story, Virdi reveals society’s ever-evolving processes in creating and enforcing normalcy.”
— Alice Wong, founder and director of Disability Visibility
"I always love reading books by deaf authors who grew up mainstream like me. If you want to learn about mainstreamed deaf people and the medical mysteries of deafness and its history, read this book! Virdi shares lots of fascinating information that I never knew before."
— Rikki Poynter, Youtuber and deaf activist
“Hearing Happiness is smart, captivating, and immensely important. We can only grow as a society when we listen to the people we’ve placed on the fringes of it. Deaf people don’t need cures—they deserve respect and support. If you want to be a person on the front lines of necessary change, start with this book!”
— Keah Brown, creator of #DisabledAndCute and author of The Pretty One
“Told with clarity and compassion, Virdi’s moving story will resonate with any reader seeking to understand what it truly is like to be deaf in the US."
— Cäsar Jacobson, activist, author, and actor
“Hearing Happiness provides so much surprising and interesting historical information, as well as many answers about audism, the history of technology, and our perception of hearing loss. Virdi’s personal story is moving, and her research takes us on all kinds of trips back in time. Fascinating.”
— Ilya Kaminsky, author of 2019 National Book Award finalist Deaf Republic
“Virdi has written a landmark study in the history of technology: one that shows in powerfully specific and deeply personal ways how technologies construct social norms and mold the way we live. Her nuanced account of the history of technologies designed to ‘cure’ the way that certain people experience the world is a powerful testament to the need for people from marginalized groups to have a seat at the table when technological fixes are proffered by tech corporations and the medical establishment.”
— Mar Hicks, author of 'Programmed Inequality'
"An innovative and engaging historical study of deafness cures, Hearing Happiness details the complex relationship between deaf people, technology industries, medical specialists and consumer culture. . . .This refreshingly accessible work will likely become a durable historical resource inside and outside of classrooms."
— Social History of Medicine
"Hearing Happiness is a must read for a broad audience interested in modern U.S. history, histories of medicine, technology, science, disability and deaf culture, and Disability and Deaf Studies. Virdi draws the reader in through a combination of masterful narrative, storytelling, and humor. Written in accessible prose, interwoven with the familiar from the broader tapestry of U.S. history, this text is suitable for both undergraduate and graduate courses. Hearing Happiness: Deafness Cures in History is a stunning masterpiece of historical scholarship."