An overlooked aspect of history uncovered

Harry Lang with light skin, short light hair, light beard wearing black golf shirt and brown tweed jacket.

For Harry Lang, there is always much to be learned from the past. Throughout his 41 years of teaching at Rochester Institute of Technology’s National Technical Institute for the Deaf and into the present-day, he has researched and authored numerous books on Deaf Americans throughout history.

Lang’s newest book, “Fighting in the Shadows: The Untold Story of Deaf People in the Civil War,” provides insight into this little-known aspect of the country’s history. The book, which includes 160 photos, sells for $39.95. 

Deaf and hard-of-hearing people were extensively involved in the American Civil War, yet no detailed summary has previously been published on their participation. Supporting both sides of the conflict, they participated as soldiers, writers, doctors, nurses, spies and assumed a variety of other roles. They emerged from the shadows to gain further control of their own destiny as American citizens.

Lang has published 10 books and numerous book chapters and articles. He was the senior history adviser on the production team of the award-winning documentary “Through Deaf Eyes,” which aired on PBS stations in 2007.

From 12:20 to 1:15 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 6, in RIT/NTID’s CSD Student Development Center, room 1300/1310, Lang will discuss the book as part of the college’s ASL Lecture Series, with a book signing after the presentation. The event is free, and sign language interpreters have been requested.

“My plan for the RIT/NTID ASL Lecture Series presentation is to focus on Deaf History/Deaf Heritage as they relate to the Civil War,” Lang said. “I will have numerous stories, but more emphasis on sign language, graduates of schools for the deaf like Laura Redden, Edmund Booth and many others and how they put aside the oppression and discrimination they faced in order to join the greater conflict that was dividing the nation.”

At 7 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 7, Writers and Books will sponsor a lecture and book signing at Rochester Academy of Medicine auditorium, 1441 East Ave., Rochester. A Q & A and book signing will follow. The event is $5, and tickets can be bought in advance by calling 585.473.2590 ext. 107 or online at This event will be sign language interpreted.

This presentation will have a stronger emphasis on community aspects, such as deaf people being involved in both the nascent Deaf community at that time, and their involvement in the hearing communities in support of the Union and Confederate armies. 

“I’ll also talk a bit about the tens of thousands of hearing soldiers who were deafened in the war and what they experienced during the years following the war,” Lang said.