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Introduction When the American Annals of the Deaf'was established in 1847, America was experiencing one of its most exciting, bellicose, and expansionist decades. President James K. Polk embodied the principle of Manifest Destiny, the belief that the United States inevitably wrould dominate North America. The population had exploded to more than 20 million from a base of about 4 million at the time of the first census, in 1790. The Republic of Texas had recently joined the Union as the 28th state, over the protests of Mexico, which considered it a renegade province. The United States was threatening war with England over control of the lands of the Northwest. The country was at war with Mexico, a conflict that would culminate in the cession of Mexican land from the Texas border to California. The potato famine in Ireland, the Great Hunger, was driving millions from their homes, many of whom would come to America, the first of many waves of immigrants from every continent in an influx that continues still, its numbers and diversity having changed the face and the character of the country. In 1847 Americans were bitterly divided over the issue of slavery, the division so deep and visceral that it would culminate in the outbreak of civil war only 14 years later. The February 14, 1847, letter from the faculty to the president and directors of the American Asylum provides no indication of the turbulent times in which it was written or of the prevailing American Zeitgeist—at least not directly. Nevertheless, it provides insight into the faculty of the institution. First, they were clearly confident of their ability to produce a journal of high interest, variety, grace of style, and quality, "a complete thesaurus or treasury of all attainable truths, facts, principles, and details which pertain to the Deaf and Dumb." The journal was projected to be of benefit to parents, professionals, alumni, and the interested public while providing the instructors of the asylum with intellectual exercise. Not coincidentally, there was a strong element of competition. The publication of a periodical was seen as a symbol of superiority in the struggle with the New York Institution for the Instruction of the Deaf and Dumb for primacy in the education of deaf children in the United States. The impetus for the periodical came from members of a favored stratum. Leading educators of deaf children prior to I860 were predominantly Protestant, hearing males of Anglo-Saxon descent. Many were ministers who had a calling to bring the word of God to deaf individuals. As a group they were highly educated intellectuals, with training in the classics. The faculty of the American Asylum epitomized the profession during this period, beginning with Thomas Hopkins Gallaudet, its first principal, a Yale College graduate w-ho had trained for the ministry. The confidence of these pioneer educators was impressive. Education of the Deaf in this country was only 30 years old, and there were only 10 scattered schools for the Deaf in existence; the American Asylum was the only such institution in New England. Yet the instructors typified a unique American optimism. These men were highly motivated, intelligent, religious, idealistic, not a little paternalistic, and imbued with a missionary zeal. To help set the tone for this early period, I will devote some attention in the following paragraphs to the first two articles in this special issue, by Thomas Hopkins Gallaudet and Harvey Prindle Peet. respectively. From my perspective , the quality of writing in the first years of the Annals was superior to that published later in the 19th century, with the exception of the work of a few scholars such as Edward Miner Gallaudet and Edward Allen Fay. In the first article, the Rev. Thomas Hopkins Gallaudet discusses the value of the natural language of signs for instruction (1848). Gallaudet had left the American Asylum 18 years prior to the publication of the article (for this and all other articles in this special issue, the listed affiliation is the author's at the time of writing), but he maintained a close interest in the field. He is almost lyrical as he addresses the "genius of a singularly beautiful and impressive...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1543-0375
Print ISSN
0002-726X
Pages
pp. xvi-xx
Launched on MUSE
2012-07-11
Open Access
No
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