Article Link: “The Analytical Spirit and the Paris Institution for the Deaf-Mutes, 1730-1860”

As I’m researching for my dissertation, I’m finally digging through a giant pile recent articles from the past years on topics relevant to my dissertation. I thought I’d share some interesting ones with you.

Christine Aicardi (University College London) published a piece, “The Analytical Spirit and the Paris Institution for the Deaf-Mutes, 1730-1860” in History of Science, vol.47, pt.2, no.156 (June 2009), pp.175-221. The article provides a history of the pedagogical frameworks at the Paris Institution for the Deaf-Mutes in light of the l’esprit philosophiue of late eighteenth-century France, which precipitated a flurry of complex intellectual theories rooted within a rationalistic and empirical spirit. Examining Charles-Michel de l’Epee’s teaching, Aicardi explores how the intellectual curiosity of the Institution’s educators eventually attracted bureaucratic attention and transformed the Institution based on academic and governmental interests. Additionally, she argues that through the Revolutionary and post-Revolutionary years, theories grounded in analytical sensationism were applied to the students, constructing the school into a “multi-purpose pilot project where such theories were both tried an applied.” Here’s a brief excerpt:

During l’Epée’s lifetime and in the following decades, the deaf-mutes belonged to acategory of human subjects which excited the interest of the French intellectual élite,in relation to linguistic, cognitive, social and educational issues. They were thoughtto be, in their untutored natural state, at an early stage of socialization, virtually presocialhuman beings, and were consistently equated with the savage man who sofascinated the French philosophes, as well as their Revolutionary disciples. Yet thedeaf-mutes educated outside the Paris Institution never achieved the consistent andlasting degree of attention that went to the pupils of this establishment. Moreover,the Paris Institution enjoyed a robust longevity while the legacies of other deaf-muteteachers contemporary of l’Epée, the best known of whom was Jacob Pereire, didnot perpetuate themselves. It raises the question of what can possibly have justifiedthe extra interest that went into the pupils of the Paris Institution for the Deaf-Mutes,and explain the school’s extraordinary fate.

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