NTID Life Histories Project records

RIT/NTID Deaf Studies Archive

Table of Contents

Collection Overview
Historical Information for NTID Life Histories Project
Scope and Content
Additional Finding Aids
Subject Headings
Information for Researchers
Administrative Information

Collection Overview (Collapse)

NTID Life Histories Project records
Bulk Date(s)
Inclusive Date(s)
Documents pertaining to the NTID Life Histories Project, an online website that offers access to the personal life stories of everyday deaf Americans. The collection is contained in six boxes and consists of a variety of materials related to the project including manuscript copies of Eugene Petersen's work, You Deaf? Visits With Deaf Americans; planning documents for the project such as correspondence, professional guidelines, funding requests, and budgeting materials; correspondence and contractual agreements with interviewees; and video tapes and floppy disc records of various interviews.
3.0 Linear feet (6 document boxes)
C.S. Mid-Range, Shelf 330
RIT Archive Collections
RIT Libraries
Wallace Center
90 Lomb Memorial Drive
Rochester, New York, 14623
(585) 475-2557

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Historical Information for NTID Life Histories Project (Collapse)

Eugene Petersen was born in 1920 in Utah. At the age of eight, he contracted spinal meningitis and lost his hearing as a result. With the exception of one year spent at the Utah School for the Deaf during his sophomore year of high school, Petersen continued his education in the public school system. He graduated in 1938 and began working as a printer. After 25 years in this career, Petersen relocated to Indianapolis, where he accepted a position as a counselor of a new program for the deaf at the Crossroad Rehabilitation Center.

Throughout his lifetime, Petersen played an active role in the deaf community. He served as a board member for the Utah Association of the Deaf, was on the Indiana Rehabilitation Services Board Committee on Deafness, was an active member of the National Association of the Deaf, and acted as president of the American Deafness and Rehabilitation Association. Petersen also served as an editor for The Deaf American and was awarded both the Deafness Research Foundation’s Distinguished Public Service Award and the Sertoma Service to Mankind Award. He was honored with the Doctor Chair at Gallaudet University for the 1985-1986 year. The Doctor Chair was given annually by Gallaudet University to an individual who would use Gallaudet's resources to contribute to the university and the deaf community. Petersen was granted the position so that he could work on his project, You Deaf? Visits with Deaf Americans.

Inez Petersen was born in North Carolina in 1926 and attended the North Carolina School for the Deaf. As an adult, she was an involved member of her church, the local community, and the deaf community. Inez Petersen served as the Director of Winston-Salem St. Paul's Episcopal Church Deaf Choir and was on the Board of Directors for the North Carolina Association of the Deaf from 1968-1974. She was honored, along with her first husband, as the Outstanding Deaf Persons in North Carolina by the National Fraternal Society of the Deaf in 1970 and was awarded the title of Winston-Salem's Handicapped Citizen of the Year in 1976.

Eugene and Inez Petersen married later in life, both having been previously married. They died tragically in a car crash in 1989.

The NTID Life Histories Project was the result of Eugene and Inez Petersens' work on You Deaf? Visits with Deaf Americans. While working as an editor for The Deaf American magazine, Eugene Petersen conducted a series of interviews with several deaf Americans. Inspired by this assignment and Studs Terkel’s book, Working: People Talk About What They Do All Day and How They Feel About What They Do, which told the personal stories of working-class Americans, Petersen came up with the idea of creating an oral history piece that would capture the lives of average deaf Americans. Petersen was concerned that the only literature available on the deaf focused on the difficulties and major successes of the deaf community. He wanted to create a work that portrayed deaf Americans as leading normal, successful lives.

Since the Petersens did not have the means to pursue the project on their own, Eugene Petersen applied for the Doctor Chair by Gallaudet University in 1985. Having received the award, the Petersens travelled around the country, interviewing 160 deaf Americans, most from the middle-class. Interviewees were encouraged to talk about their backgrounds, circumstances, feelings, and opinions about living as a deaf person in modern America. These interviews were compiled into a book that was submitted for publication. Unfortunately, the book was rejected with the suggestion that the contents be trimmed down.

After the Petersens' death, Susan Foster, a researcher at the National Technical Institute for the Deaf (NTID), attempted to find a publisher for Petersen's book, but was also rejected. In 1999, Foster approached Gail Kovalik Hyde, a colleague in NTID, regarding the project. They decided to publish the Petersens' work on their own on the Internet and titled the project the NTID Life Histories Project: A Collection of Life Studies of Deaf People http://library.rit.edu/depts/archives/deafhistory/index.htm.

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Scope and Content (Collapse)

The NTID Life Histories Project collection contains a variety of documents related to the development of the oral history web project. The collection includes an early manuscript copy of Eugene Petersen's You Deaf? Visits with Deaf Americans as well as Petersen's final copy for publication. These manuscripts include copies of the many interviews with deaf Americans that the Petersens conducted.

The collection also contains planning documents for the web project. These documents consist of correspondence, budgeting materials, model oral history websites, guidelines from the Oral History Association, and correspondence and agreements with project interviewees. Additionally, there are materials related to Kovalik's application for a National Endowment for the Humanities grant.

At the end of the collection are several video tapes and floppy discs containing recordings of the different interviews.

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Arrangement (Collapse)

The collection is contained within six document boxes with materials being roughly organized by type. The first box contains early manuscript copies of Eugene W. Petersen's work , You Deaf? Visits With Deaf Americans, as well as planning documents for the oral history project, which continue into the second box. Box 3 contains the entire manuscript for Petersen's work and the start of a series of correspondence with interviewees for the project, which continues through Box 5. Box 6 consists of videotapes and floppy discs from various interviews.

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Additional Finding Aids (Collapse)

In addition to this finding aid, an inventory is available below. For more information, please contact the RIT Archive Collections.

NTID Life Histories Project records

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Subject Headings (Collapse)

Personal Name(s)

  • Foster, Susan Bannerman
  • Kovalik, Gail
  • Petersen, Eugene W.
  • Petersen, Inez, d. 1989

Corporate Name(s)

  • National Technical Institute for the Deaf.


  • Deaf -- United States
  • Web site development


  • Correspondence
  • Manuscripts for publication
  • Oral histories (document genres)
  • Video recordings

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Information for Researchers (Collapse)

Preferred Citation

NTID Life Histories Project records, RIT/NTID Deaf Studies Archive

Restrictions on Access

This collection is open to researchers.

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Administrative Information (Collapse)

Collection ID


Source of Acquisition

The collection was given to RIT Archive Collections by Gail Hyde, an employee at the National Technical Institute for the Deaf (NTID).

Processing Information

Finding aid created by Lara Nicosia in November 2010

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