Historians are starting to listen, tuning their ears to the sounds of the past to gain a new understanding of times gone by.
Sound may be irretrievable in itself but references to hearing and listening resonate in many written records and can be highly significant for grasping a sense of how people thought in the past.
Australian historians are making key contributions to the field of sound history, in particular with the work of Professor Shane White and Graham White at Sydney University. They are specialists in African-American history, and together have written an acclaimed book on the sound history of slavery. They recover the sounds of plantation and urban life and document the differing responses from those who heard them.
How sounds are heard is crucial for Professor Mark Smith of the University of South Carolina. He is one of the pioneers in sound history, and has argued for the importance of sound in the thinking of Americans in the years leading up to the Civil War.
Meantime historians have begun to consider how Australia was heard in the past—from early explorers to the lead-up to Federation. Many of the themes from the American research resound here too—the power of silence, the appeal of uniformity, the question of noise—suggesting that sound history is going to be heard loudly in the future.
Shane White, Professor of History, University of Sydney
Mark Smith, Professor of History, University of South Carolina
Alan Atkinson, ARC Professorial Fellow, University of New England, Armidale
Diane Collins, Associate Dean, Conservatorium of Music, Sydney
Bruce Johnson, Docent and Visiting Professor , University of Turku , Finland
Cameron Fairweather, trumpet
Ingrid Heyn, sound performer
Manolis Mavromakis, reader
Michael Taft, sound performer
Class 4/3 S, St Brigid’s Primary School, Mordialloc
Title: The Sounds of Slavery
Author: Shane White and Graham White
Publisher: Beacon Press, Boston 2005
Title: Listening to Nineteenth Century America
Author: Mark M. Smith
Publisher: University of North Carolina Press, 2001
Title: The Commonwealth of Speech
Author: Alan Atkinson
Publisher: Australian Scholarly Publishing, Melbourne 2002
Title: Talking and Listening in the Age of Modernity
Author/editors: Joy Damousi and Desley Deacon
Publisher: ANU Press, Canberra 2007
Title: De Anima Book II