History of Knowledge Seminar Series: ‘Stillness and Silence in the Archives: Listening to Extinction in the Twentieth Century’

15 dec 2022
Van 15:30 - 17:00uur
Online (Microsoft Teams)
Alexandra Hui (Mississippi State University)
’Stillness and Silence in the Archives: Listening to Extinction in the Twentieth Century’
> 15 December 2022, 15:30-17:00 (CET) 
> Online (Microsoft Teams)
> Registration is not needed. Please click here to attend the meeting


Sound and listening were centrally important to the development of modern conceptions of the environment and environmentalism. Tracing the sounds and listening to them in individuals’ understanding of nature prompts us to consider the shifting, culturally-bound mechanisms through which we have sensed and perceived and acted upon the world. In my research, I build on Benedict Anderson’s “imagined community,” exploring the role played by listening in the development of what I term, “imagined ecologies,” the moment in which individuals or communities recognize they are part of a multi-species ecological commons. In this talk I will focus on case studies that help us understand the interrelated development of imagined ecologies, auditory memory, and technology in the modern American context: Early twentieth-century efforts to collect the voices of vanishing species, radio producers’ use of both artificial and wild-recorded sounds of nature to promote principles of environmental conservation, and the popular use of “improved sounds of nature” in built environments in the 1970s. By focusing on actual sounds and listening practices, I offer a new approach to studying past human relationships with nature. Examining the sensation, perception, and documentation of silence in the archive opens up categorical and ontological questions about how change is determined. Through these case studies of scholarly- and lay-understandings of silence, I reflect on the role of silence, slowness, and stillness in history and where they can be found in the historical record, challenging the very practice of history.


Alexandra Hui is an Associate Professor of History at Mississippi State University and co-editor in chief of the journal Isis. Hui’s work combines the histories of science, sound studies, and the environment. She is the author of the monograph The Psychophysical Ear: Musical Experiments, Experimental Sounds, 1840–1910 (MIT Press, 2013) and co-editor of the volume Testing Hearing: The Making of Modern Aurality (Oxford University Press, 2020).

More info

This seminar is organized by Lukas M. Verburgt and Sjang ten Hagen. Please visit our website for more information, the full 2022-23 program, and to subscribe to our newsletter.
Het KNHG is de grootste organisatie van professionele historici in Nederland. Het biedt een platform aan de ruim 1100 leden en aan de historische gemeenschap als geheel. Wordt lid van het KNHG.
Terug naar de bron: de geschiedenis ontrafeld met nieuwe technologie. Dat is de missie van het Huygens ING, een onderzoeksinstituut op het gebied van geschiedenis en cultuur.