Pioneering oral historian who documented deaf experiences dies at 79


John S. Schuchman, the hearing son of deaf parents who was among the pioneers of oral history interviewing with deaf people, died of cancer Dec. 19, 2017. He was 79.

Schuchman, a longtime member of the Oral History Association and Oral History in the Mid-Atlantic Region (OHMAR), began his academic career as a history professor at Gallaudet University, which was established in Washington, D.C., in 1864 by an act of Congress as a national college for the deaf. He later became a dean, vice president of academic affairs and provost. He retired in 1998 but kept on teaching until 2000.

Shuchman’s first language was American Sign Language, and he used his ability to live in hearing and non-hearing worlds to advocate for an understanding of deaf culture. His historical research included an analysis of the movie industry’s treatment of deaf actors and its traditional use of hearing actors to depict deaf characters.

Schuchman’s research also focused on Nazi persecution of deaf people, among others with disabilities who were victims of the Holocaust. His work included interviews with deaf Hungarian Jews who survived Nazi death camps.

At Gallaudet, Schuchman introduced oral history to his deaf students and perfected the use of split-screen video recordings to capture oral history interviews conducted in sign language. He received OHMAR’s Pogue Award in 1990 for his lifetime contributions to oral history. The award is named for Forrest C. Pogue, who pioneered the use of oral history in World War II combat.

A native of Indianapolis, Schuchman earned degrees in history from Butler University and Indiana University and a law degree from Georgetown University in Washington, D.C.

He is survived by his wife, Betty Jane Engleman Schuchman of Ashburn, Virginia.

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