lecture by Mark Smith

This lecture asks – and answers – a fundamental question facing scholars of historical acoustemology: can we hear the sounds of the past?
Drawing on examples ranging from urban history to museum curatorial policy, the lecture argues that the ability to reproduce historical sounds is not tantamount to hearing listening or imbuing these sounds with the same cultural, social, or political meaning as when they were first heared. There is an important difference between the production and the consumption of sounds and, for historians, the contextualization is key to understanding the meaning of past sounds.
By surveying recent writing on the history of sound, the lecture stresses the importance of treating sound—as well as noise and silence—in plural fashion, remaining attentive to how different constituencies in the past listened.  The lecture is broadly comparative, examining the history of sound, listening, and hearing with a focus on the United States and Western Europe. It outlines how historians might reliably practice “sound history,” explains the intellectual, conceptual, and methodological dividends of contextualizing the history of sound, and ends by suggesting future areas of historical inquiry.

appearance at Tuned City
Social Acoustemologies: Hearing Contexts / 09.07.11