Hidden Legacies of Helen Keller: A Symposium

Submitted by jessmendes on Tue, 09/06/2022 - 17:20

Much of what we think we know about Helen Keller is either wrong, or so garbled by her description in popular media as to be unrecognizable. The American Printing House and Filson Historical Society are hosting the Hidden Legacies of Helen Keller Symposium this month! 

The two-day symposium will explore the hidden historical legacy and context of Hellen Keller’s work from diverse perspectives across a spectrum of disability history scholarship and experiences. Dynamic programming will include:

  • Iain Hutchison, a researcher at the University of Glasgow, will use the blind school visitor’s book in Edinburgh, Scotland to track visiting educators, including Helen Keller. 
  • Leona Godin, author of There Plant Eyes:  A Personal and Cultural History of Blindness, considers the history of braille, its champions such as Keller, and the challenges it continues to face.
  • Cristina Hartmann grew up Deaf in a non-English-speaking household, received a cochlear implant as a child, and became DeafBlind later in life. She will explore the practical, personal, and political aspects of using multiple languages and methods from the visual to the spoken to the tactile.
  • Laurie Block, Executive Director of the Disability History Museum, will discuss two weeks in the spring of 1894 that Keller and Sullivan spent in her childhood home in Tuscumbia, Alabama, where a lynching occurred days later. 
  • The great-great granddaughter of journalist Joseph Edgar Chamberlin, Elizabeth Emerson uses letters to reconstruct his Red Farm circle of friends and the safe harbor “Uncle Ed”  provided to Annie and Helen.
  • Max Wallace takes up Keller’s visit to South Africa in 1951, where she was hosted by the Reverend Arthur Blaxall, a long-time anti-Apartheid activist.
  • Graham Warder, Associate Professor of History at Keene State University, and Janet Golden, Professor Emerita at Rutgers University talk about eugenics, immigration, birth control, and blindness prevention associated with sexually transmitted disease—all topics Keller addressed, using film clips from educational films and “Deliverance”, the 1919 biopic of Keller’s life. 
  • Brian Greenwald, Director of the Schuchman Deaf Documentary Center at Gallaudet University, explores how the Deaf community successfully resisted and overturned restrictions imposed on Deaf Californians in the 1928-1948 period.
  • Ted Supalla, a neurolinguist at Georgetown University studying ASL as a ‘Heritage Language’, will explore the development and survival of ASL, when he describes how George Veditz’s use of film as a scientific tool in 1913 facilitates understanding ASL’s evolution across generations.
  • Aparna Nair, Assistant Professor of the History of Science at the University of Oklahoma, will discuss how trained guide dogs moved slowly around the globe in the wake of the First World War. Her talk will explore why only some blind populations had access to guide dogs.
  • Leah Samples, a Ph.D. candidate from Penn, will explore groups who lobbied for services, economic rights, access, and income supports in the late 1920s and 1930s, influencing the formation of the Social Security Act of 1935.
  • Janelle Legg,  Assistant Professor in History at Gallaudet University, will discuss the digital mapping of deaf communities across time. The use of digital tools to explore historical diversity has implications for making communities more visible, while also creating new challenges for studying and teaching about the past.
  • Frank Mondelli, a postdoctoral candidate at UC-Davis, will take up Keller’s two major trips to Japan. Keller played a crucial role as an ally for advocates in postwar Japan who fought for new legislation in a shifting political landscape.


Register by this Friday!


Key details

Date: September 16, 2022

Location: Online

Who can attend: Public

School, Centre or Area: The American Printing House and co-sponsor The Filson Historical Society 

Type: Symposium

Price: $75 standard, $25 for students