Jaipreet Virdi

Jaipreet Virdi is an award-winning historian who investigates how medicine and technology impact the lived experiences of disabled people. Born in Kuwait to Sikh parents, Virdi lost her hearing at age four to bacterial meningitis. By age six, her working-class family immigrated to Toronto, Ontario, where she would later attend a school for deaf and hard-of-hearing children. A product of “mainstreamed” education, Virdi learned to communicate through lip-reading and her hearing aids. Years of navigation within deaf/hearing spaces, along with working in retail marketing and fashion merchandising have shaped how she analyzes people’s relationships with their technologies.
Virdi is an associate professor of history at the University of Delaware and previously taught at Toronto Metropolitan University and Brock University. She is author of Hearing Happiness: Deafness Cures in History (2020) and co-editor of Disability and the Victorians: Attitudes, Legacies, Interventions (2020). 
Virdi’s writing and public speaking style is an ingenious blend of narrative that weaves archive research with material culture, lyrical history, and personal memoir. Adhering to the notion a historian’s responsibility is to disseminate collective histories as broadly as possible, Virdi shares her own experiences—of deafness, endometriosis, ovarian cancer—to clarify medical and disability contexts, and to advocate for accessible healthcare.

OAH Lectures by Jaipreet Virdi

American postwar hearing aid advertisements promoted an ideal way of living that
emphasized highly gendered and ableist messages intended to capitalize on the
beauty and sartorial expectations of these consumers—even when such messages
contradicted with deaf people’s lived experiences.

Numbers, graphs, and formulas possess immense rhetorical power, especially when enhanced by bureaucratic management. In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, disability presented new approaches for interweaving medical surveillance and health surveillance with eugenics to translate scientific data about heredity into social policies.

An autonomous claiming of identity that depends on an individual to reveal their own disability and disabled experience, the disabled gaze rejects typical perceptions of disability as objectifying or exploitative. It offers a way to examine how disabled people asserted themselves—through art, for instance—or challenged medical assumptions about their bodies.

Are over-the-counter hearing aids really worth all the hype? This talk outlines the history of design and technological developments of hearing aids to examine what the future holds for deaf users. 

More Distinguished Lectureship Program Resources