March 20. The Invention of Miracles: Language, Power, and Alexander Graham Bell’s Quest to End Deafness.

March 20, 2023

Katie Booth.  Author.

The Invention of Miracles:  Language, Power, and Alexander Graham Bell’s Quest to End Deafness.

Katie Booth is a writer, ghostwriter, and editor whose work has appeared in The Believer, Harper's Magazine, McSweeney’s Quarterly Concern, and elsewhere, and has been recognized by Longform, Longreads, and Best American Essays. She has received fellowships from the Massachusetts Historical Society, and the Library of Congress. Her first book, The Invention of Miracles: Language, Power, and Alexander Graham Bell’s Quest to End Deafness, was published by Simon & Schuster in 2021. It was a New York Times editors’ choice, a finalist for the PEN/Jacqueline Bograd Weld Award for Biography, a finalist for the British Academy Book Prize for Global Cultural Understanding, and runner-up for the Mark Lynton History Prize from the Columbia School of Journalism and the Neiman Foundation of Harvard. She grew up in a mixed hearing/ deaf family.

This lecture will be moderated by Dr. Kenneth, DeHaan, Professor and Director of the MA in Sign Language Education Program at Gallaudet University.

Invention of Miracles is a story of brilliance and a reminder of the ethical responsibilities of great minds. Taking place in the Victorian Age and an era of expansive innovation and invention, Booth tells parallel stories - the first details the advent of one of the world’s most famous inventions, the telephone; while the second powerfully reveals the many unintended and dire consequences that were perpetrated during this time by its inventor, Alexander Graham Bell.

Booth’s biographical account of Alexander Graham Bell depicts a passionate and brilliant man who gained international fame racing to invent the telephone while he was also fixated on curing deafness by teaching the deaf to speak. Each of his pursuits originated from a place of love -- for his mother and his wife each of whom lived with non-congenital deafness, and for his father who was an internationally renowned elocutionist. Despite his good intentions, Bell had a profound and long-lasting negative impact on the language development and education of the world’s deaf community in the 19th and 20th centuries. This impact continues today.

As the story unfolds, Booth demonstrates that good intentions can easily be corrupted by the absence and the denial of scientific data. 

A short video of Booth and DeHaan discussing this book can be viewed at:

The “Invention of Miracles” provides all of us with important reminders from history that are consistent with the mission and purpose of the Thornburgh Family’s Lecture on Disability Policy and Law. These reminders include:

1)      The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is essential for the advancement and protection of children and adults with any type of disability, including deafness. Disability rights are civil rights.

2)      The voices and insights of people with disabilities are essential in formulating disability programs and policies. As is often stated in the community: “Nothing about us without us.”

3)      Diversity, equity, and inclusion should remain central considerations before, during, and after product and program innovation.

4)      Teaching is complex and it requires approaches that can be tailored to the individual as well as applicable for the majority. 

Refreshments will be served.

Parking suggested at Soldiers and Sailors auditorium garage.

This lecture series is co-sponsored by the Institute of Politics, Pitt Law, the School of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences, the David C. Frederick Honors College, the department of Disability Resources and Services with assistance from the Office of the Chancellor.