Milan, Italy 1880

Milan 1880 is an infamous historical mark of "slashing" sign language which led to the Dark Age of Deaf Education. At this biased, pre-planned conference, International Congress on Education of the Deaf in Milan, oralist proponents voted to ban sign language.

The delegates declared that oral education was a better educational method than manual education. At that time, sign language was seen as a untrue language, a poor substitute of speech language. A resolution was passed to forbid sign language used in Deaf education. Subsequently, sign language was removed in Deaf education. Oral method was practiced in Deaf education.

The delegates of the U.S. and Britain were the only representatives against the ban of sign language but their objection to the ban was neglected. Eventualy, this conference had an enormous impact on the lives and an education of sign language users for the next hundreds of years.

Prior to the year 1880, there were successful Deaf politicians, writers, artists, lawyers, educators, and so on -- all of them spoke in sign language. After the conference in 1880, things began to dramatically change. Successful Deaf professionals began to decline. The quality of education and life for the deaf deteriorated quickly and sign language was regarded as a shame.

At the low point in the history of Deaf education in the early 1900s, things began to change a bit. Sign language was re-introduced into Deaf education to "support" speech, as an oral method was realized as a form of failure. Deaf education once again had been improved a bit.

Then, the embrace of sign language began to rise in the 1970s when William Stokoe proclaimed that signed language is a true language in his research on American Sign Language at Gallaudet College (presently Gallaudet University).

The rights movement and Deaf activists rose in the 1980s for the human rights and language rights. Today deaf sign-language users enjoy lives with full accessibility to education. Today Milan 1880 is remembered as a bitter symbol of the oppression of sign language.

The Congress of 2010 in Vancouver, Canada, announced a formal apology and removed the ban of sign language used in education.

The work of art Milan, Italy 1880 by Mary J. Thornley is a visual metonym of the famous work The Executions of the Third of May 1808 (painted in 1814-1815) or the shorter title Third of May, 1808 by Francisco Goya (1746-1828), one of the great Spanish masters. Below shows some parallels between these two works I critiqued.

the third of may by goya
The Third of May by Goya.

The painting The Third of May 1808 depicts a tragic event about Napoleon's French soldiers vengefully slaughtering unarmed Spanish civilians when the Spaniards rebelled against their invasion in 1808. Related to the collective feeling of this horror, the event known as the Milan 1880 is an infamous conference, International Congress on Education of the Deaf in Milan, where oralist proponents voted to ban sign language. It made an emormous negative impact on the lives of Deaf signers and their languages worldwide for many decades.

Interesting, the years in these two works' titles are related in numeral anagram (e.g. 1880 and 1808). Like Thornley who is deaf, Goya's serious illness left him permanently deaf before the Third of May 1808 occurred.

milan 1880 by mary thornley
Milan, Italy 1880 by Mary Thornley. Photograph by Gallaudet University.