History is a vital part of any culture. Passing from generation to generation, the stories of shared experiences, traditions, and customs form a framework for cultural continuity and growth. The written history of the Deaf community has traditionally been told by outside observers. These observers are hearing people – audiologists, doctors, educators, and policymakers – who have worked with deaf individuals and often miss the cultural hallmarks of the community. With the work of Dr. William Stokoe in the 1960s demonstrating that ASL meets all criteria to be considered a natural and distinct language, a swelling of pride and an understanding of capability began. This work, coupled with the socio-political changes surrounding the Civil Rights movement, led to the surge of Deaf-authored history texts, which continues today.
While sometimes considered inferior to officially-recorded histories (i.e., written in English), the oral tradition of recording history, in fact, fits the Deaf community's needs well and is a critical component of maintaining a full record of Deaf history. For a greater understanding of how the history of Deaf people in the United States has been impacted by oppression, see section on Audism.