Projektleiterin des DFG-Forschungsprojektes Schwarze und taube westliche Missionare und Gehörlosenbildung in Ghana und Nigeria: Leben und Werk von Berta und Andrew Foster – eine globalgeschichtliche Fallstudie
(Forschungskolleg Transkulturelle Studien / Sammlung Perthes)
My research interests center on the transnational history of medicine and knowledge production especially from the perspectives of minorities, most notably Deaf and Black persons. I earned my Ph.D. degree in U.S. history from the University of Leipzig in 2006 with a dissertation on American Students at German Universities in the nineteenth century. From 2006 until 2009, I worked as a Post-Doctoral Research Associate at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, TN, a position in which, among other things, I coordinated the international Alexander-von-Humboldt in English-project, a collaboration with the University of Potsdam. After my return to Germany in 2010, I worked for two years in the field of German memory culture, including a year at the Federal Foundation for the Reappraisal of the East German Communist Dictatorship (Stiftung zur Aufarbeitung der SED-Diktatur). After research scholarships at the Max-Planck-Institute for the History of Science in Berlin and the German Historical Institute in Washington, DC, I was a Post-Doctoral research associate in History of Medicine at Martin Luther University Halle-Wittenberg (2014 to 2019). I have completed my second Ph.D. dissertation in the field of Transnational Deaf History in 2023.
Transatlantische Medizin- und Wissenschaftsgeschichte (19. und 20. Jahrhundert) / Transatlantic History of Medicine and Knowledge Production (19th and 20th Century)
Perspektiven sprachlich-kultureller Minderheiten / Perspectivs of Cultural and Linguistic Minorities
„Schwarze und taube westliche Missionare und Gehörlosenbildung in Ghana und Nigeria: Leben und Werk von Berta und Andrew Foster – eine globalgeschichtliche Fallstudie”
“Black and Deaf Western Missionaries and Deaf Education in Ghana and Nigeria: The Story of Berta and Andrew Foster—A Case Study in Global History“
In this research project, I examine deaf missionaries Andrew and Berta Foster, who starting in 1957 founded more than 30 schools and churches for the deaf in thirteen African countries. Andrew Foster was an African American from the segregated South of the United States. Berta Zuther was born under national socialism and grew up in West Berlin during the early Cold War. They met at the 3rd World Congress of the World Federation of the Deaf in Wiesbaden in 1959 and got married in Nigeria in 1961. Tracing the Foster’s story allows me to explore intertwined aspects of deaf education in regional and local contexts on three different continents. It does not simply mean to write a biography of two deaf missionaries but to create an exemplary case study in global history that comprises transcultural, interdisciplinary, and intersectional elements and is set against the backdrop of decolonization, civil rights movements, and the Cold War.
Expert-discourses about Deafness in the divided Germany
In this project, I examined expert-discourses about Deafness in the divided Germany, focusing on international input and contributions of Deaf stakeholders. Two leading questions serve as a red thread: One, to what extent can genuinely deaf persons partake in oral cultures, and, second, what role should national sign languages play in their education. The conflict between these two approaches may be traced to the 18th century, when the “oral” approach was first perceived to be the “German method” and the “manual” approach “the French method.” After World War II, new technological advances resulted in affordable hearing aids and Cochlear Implants (CI). Simultaneously, linguists began studying national sign languages, for the first time presenting solid academic proof of the fact that they indeed constitute actual languages. Since the 1970s, these findings have led to renewed, at times polemic discussions about the proper language instruction at schools for the deaf.
However, in contrast to past methodological disagreements, two new elements had emerged: First, in 1951, Deaf adults initially mainly from Europe and North America formed the World Federation of the Deaf (WFD), an international organization of national Deaf Associations. Second, in 1959, the United Nations and the World Health Organization granted the WFD consultative status. Starting in the 1960s, the WFD actively contributed to UNESCO’s educational programs, which were thus also shaped by Deaf sign-language-using adults. National civil rights movements and decolonization efforts furthermore affected UNESCO guidelines on Deaf Education. The creation of international platforms for expert discourses and the active input of deaf adults impacted national debates about deafness. It allowed experts to distance themselves from national educational traditions, and thus opened doors for more complex educational approaches like “total communication” and “bimodal-bilingual education” – at least in theory. The process of translating expert concepts into practical educational work at schools for the deaf in Germany is ongoing to this day.