Hearing Happiness: A History of Deafness Cures & their Cultural Impact
Date: Fri Apr 26, 5:30 PM EST - Fri Apr 26, 7:00 PM EST

Join us for a deep dive into the cultural impact of historical remedies for deafness during the Progressive Era. Special guest and historian Jaipreet Virdi will explore the remedies utilized by deaf individuals who sought to regain their sense of hearing. Virdi will explore the profound societal pressures that stigmatized deafness in the pursuit of normalcy.

Dr. Jaipreet Virdi is an award-winning historian whose research focuses on the ways medicine and technology impact the lived experiences of disabled people. Her first book, Hearing Happiness: Deafness Cures in History (University of Chicago Press, 2020) raises pivotal questions about deafness in American society and the endless quest for a cure. She has published articles on diagnostic technologies, audiometry, hearing aids, and the medicalization of deafness and has essays in The AtlanticNew InternationalistThe Washington Post, Wellcome Collection, Psyche, and Slate.

As an educator, Virdi has taught at Toronto Metropolitan University, the University of Toronto, and Brock University. She is currently an Associate Professor at the Department of History at the University of Delaware where she teaches courses on disability histories, the history of medicine, and health activism.

Born in Kuwait to Sikh parents, 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 lipread 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, focusing on the history of medicine and technology. Her PhD dissertation is titled “From the Hands of Quacks:” Aural Surgery, Deafness, and the Making of a Specialty in Nineteenth-Century London. 

Her new research project historicizes how disabled people tinkered with their prostheses and perceived their devices to be prosthetic extensions of themselves that were crucial for their self-crafting of normalcy. Through case studies of users adopting what Virdi refers to as “the disabled gaze,” this project forces us to confront how disabled people challenged ableist assumptions about their bodies, and claimed their own spaces to craft their identity.