Douglas Baynton

Professor Emeritus

Doug's primary interest is the history of disability in the United States. His research and teaching explore how the cultural meanings of disabilities have changed over time, with particular interest in how the concept of disability can shed light on our understanding of such topics as nativism, eugenics, racial stereotyping, gender roles, and ideas of progress and decline, civilization and nature.

Doug’s first book, Forbidden Signs: American Culture and the Campaign against Sign Language (1996), is a cultural history of debates over American Sign Language and the meaning of deafness in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. His second, Through Deaf Eyes: A Photographic History (2007), the companion volume to a PBS documentary film, explores and reinterprets American history from the perspective of the Deaf community. Doug’s latest book, Defectives in the Land: Disability and Immigration in the Age of Eugenics (2016), is a history of the concept of “defective persons” in the making of American immigration policy in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Books

Doug serves on the Editorial Board of Sign Language Studies, Disability Studies Quarterly, and Deaf Studies Digital Journal.  He has served as a consultant and on-air commentator for an award-winning PBS documentary, "Through Deaf Eyes" and for a National Public Radio broadcast, "Beyond Affliction: The Disability History Project." He is currently an advisor for a PBS documentary film biography in development, "Becoming Helen Keller," and for the online Disability History Museum.

Doug Baynton earned a PhD from the University of Iowa in 1993 and retired from the University of Iowa in 2019.


He taught various classes on disability history and US nineteenth-century cultural history. He also taught courses for advanced students in the American Sign Language Program.

  • HIST:2151  Introduction to the History Major
  • HIST:4201/ASL:2002  History of the American Deaf Community
  • HIST:4203  American Cultural History, 1820 to 1920
  • HIST:7205  Seminar: History of Disability
  • ASL:3200  Topics in Deaf Studies
  • ASL:3100  American Sign Language Conversation

Awards and service

  • Curriculum Development Award for Service Learning (2006-2007)
  • Faculty Scholar Award, University of Iowa (2003-2006)
  • Arts and Humanities Initiative Grant, University of Iowa (2001)
  • College of Liberal Arts and Sciences Summer Fellowship, University of Iowa (2000)
  • Central Investment Fund for Research Enhancement Grant, University of Iowa (2000)
  • Arts and Humanities Initiative Grant, University of Iowa (1999)
  • Old Gold Summer Fellowship, University of Iowa (1999)
  • Smithsonian Institution Postdoctoral Fellowship, National Museum of American History (August 1997 - July 1998)
  • Obermann Center for Advanced Studies, Research Seminar Fellowship, University of Iowa (June 10-26, 1997)
  • Irving T. Zola Emerging Scholar Award, Society for Disability Studies (1996)




  • "‘These Pushful Days’: Time and Disability in the Age of Eugenics"
  • "Abraham Lincoln, Laurent Clerc, and the Design of the World"
  • "Beyond Culture: Deaf Studies and the Question of the Body" in Sightings: Explorations in Deaf Studies
  • “'The Undesirability of Admitting Deaf Mutes’: US Immigration Policy and Deaf Immigrants, 1882-1924”
  • "Defectives in the Land: Disability and American Immigration Policy, 1882-1924"
  • "The Curious Death of Sign Language Studies in the Nineteenth Century" in The Study of Signed Languages
  • "Disability and the Justification of Inequality in American History" in The New Disability History: American Perspectives
Research areas
  • American Cultural History
  • History of Disability
  • American Sign Language
Doug Baynton
University of Iowa