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Historic film selected for National Film Registry

January 5, 2011
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Gallaudet University and Library of Congress Safeguard Rare Sign Language Films

Washington, D.C. [January 5, 2011] – On December 28, 2010, the Library of Congress announced it had named the landmark film, “The Preservation of  the Sign Language,” for inclusion in the National Film Registry. The film was one of only 25 selected each year to the National Film Registry by the Librarian of Congress under the terms of the National Film Preservation Act. According to the Library of Congress, which received more than 2,112 nominations this year, films that are selected are those that are “culturally, historically or aesthetically” significant.

“Nowhere else was this announcement more celebrated than at Gallaudet University, the nation’s foremost resource for the study of the history, language and culture of America’s signing deaf community,” said Dr. Alan Hurwitz, president of Gallaudet University, the world’s only liberal arts college for the deaf. “On behalf of the university I would like to congratulate the NAD and thank the Library of Congress for recognizing and promoting the preservation of such a significant piece of history for the deaf community.”

Produced by the National Association of the Deaf (NAD) in 1913, “Preservation” features a signed presentation by George Veditz, a Gallaudet alumnus and, at the time, the president of the NAD. The film was one of a series of films produced between 1910 and 1920 by the NAD to capture the essence of American Sign Language (ASL) and preserve it for future generations of deaf and hard of hearing people.  Veditz and other deaf leaders feared that the growing influence of oralists within the field of deaf education would lead to the eradication of sign language in schools for the deaf. The films serve as a testament to deaf peoples’ historical struggle to communicate freely in their natural signed languages.  As Veditz explains in “Preservation:”

“We wish to preserve our sign language in the form in which these masters (referring to several men proficient in sign communication) use it for coming generations. The only way in which this can be done is by means of moving picture film…As long as we have deaf people on earth, we will have signs. As long as these films exist we shall preserve our beautiful language in its purity.”

In the 1940s, “Preservation” and the other 13 films in the series (including one featuring Gallaudet’s first president, Edward Miner Gallaudet) were entrusted for safekeeping with Gallaudet University and the Library Congress. The university’s Archives eventually converted all 14 films to digital format and all are accessible to the public at: videocatalog.gallaudet.edu/userSelectFeed.cfm

“These films are a treasure trove of information for both scholars and non-academics interested in the rich history of our nation’s deaf community,” said Ulf Hedberg, director of the Gallaudet Archives. “They are an important part of the Archives’ world-renowned collection of primary and secondary material related to deaf peoples’ challenges and successes over the past 150 years.”

5 January 2011

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