Well-known for his role as professor of history at Gallaudet University, John “Stan” Schuchman has demonstrated a lifelong commitment to serving the deaf community. Recently an endowment, made by him and his wife Betty J. Shuchman, ensured the continued study of deaf history through the Schuchman Deaf Documentary Center at Gallaudet.
Stan, an only child, was born November 12, 1938 in Indianapolis, Indiana. His mother, Florence was born in Florida, attending the Florida School for the Deaf before her family moved to Indianapolis. His father, Harry, was raised in Indianapolis by parents that had emigrated from Russia at the beginning of the twentieth century. Harry and Florence met at the Indiana School for the Deaf, graduating in 1927. At home Stan was exposed to several language communities. His parents used American Sign Language, while hearing extended family members spoke Yiddish and English. Stan recalled that while his hearing relatives attempted to communicate with Florence and Harry through a “primitive system of gestures,” they often relied on him to interpret. “I grew up comfortable with sign language and communicated in signs and fingerspelling without voice with my parents and our many deaf friends.” [Hollywood Speaks; Deafness and the Film Entertainment Industry, pg vii, ix]. For Stan, two worlds existed and his friends and family were divided between them. “Although these two circles of deaf friends and family knew each other and occasionally interacted at special events… they represented two discrete worlds – hearing and deaf.” [Hollywood Speaks, pg vii].
After graduating high school in 1956, Stan attended Butler University. Upon graduation in 1961, he entered the graduate program at Indiana University, obtaining his Ph.D. He also completed a law degree at Georgetown University. He began teaching History at Gallaudet University in 1967. During his tenure he has also served as Dean, Vice President, and Provost of Gallaudet University [John “Stan” Schuchman Brings to Light the Experience of Deaf People in Hitler’s Europe]. He left the deanship at Gallaudet University in 1985, but continued to make academic contributions. In 1988 he published his first book, Hollywood Speaks; Deafness and the Film Entertainment Industry. This book analyzed how Hollywood portrayed deaf characters over time and was the first book to organize a formal filmography on deafness. He also served as program co-chair for the First International Conference on Deaf History in Washington DC in 1991.
As a historian, Stan was committed to recording and preserving the lived experiences of deaf people and he developed particular techniques to record oral histories in signed languages. Beginning in 1981, with a small grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities, he began to focus his attention on this subject [“Oral History and Deaf Heritage” in Looking Back; A Reader on the History of Deaf Communities and Their Sign Languages, pg 520]. In this video by Gallaudet University Stan interviews his father Harry who shared his own story- moving to America from Europe as well as attending Indiana School for the Deaf. Stan applied these skills to an expansive historical study of the experiences of deaf people in Europe during World War II. Between 1993 and 1997, Stan and Donna F. Ryan, collected oral histories from deaf people living in the United States, the Czech Republic, Germany, France, Hungary, Great Britain, Poland, Norway, the Netherlands, and Canada [Deaf People in Hitler’s Europe, pg viii]. In 1998, they organized a conference in conjunction with the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, entitled “Deaf People in Hitler’s Europe, 1933-1945.” And in 2002, this work was published as Deaf People in Hitler’s Europe, an anthology of work on the experiences of deaf people throughout this period [Deaf People in Hitler’s Europe, pg vii-xi].
Stan has continued to have an interest in the academic advancement at Gallaudet University. In 2014, he and his wife, Dr. Betty J. Schuchman, created the Schuchman Deaf History Award. The award, given out every five years, is meant to encourage the study of deaf life and experience of deaf people and their communities. Most recently, in January 2017, the Schuchman’s generously created an endowment to support further support the Center for Deaf Documentary Studies, a program that trains students in documenting the experiences of deaf people. In honor of their gift, the Center was renamed the Drs. John S. & Betty J. Schuchman Deaf Documentary Center.
Stan passed away on December 19th, 2017 at the age of 79 years old with his wife BJ by his side. In a letter to the community sharing the news about his passing, Gallaudet University’s President Bobbi Cordano stated, “Stan Schuchman was a mighty advocate for deaf students, deaf actors, deaf historians, deaf professors, and deaf leaders. He saw how history can enlighten, and how documentary work can challenge injustice.”
Watch Stan talk about his work on Hollywood Speaks; Deafness and the Film Entertainment Industry in an interview with Deaf Mosaic. (Schuchman begins at 4:07) To learn more about his long legacy at Gallaudet, view University President Bobbi Cordano’s Vlog.