Sounds Like History

2009 January 8
by Ellen Noonan

At an AHA panel this year on “What Is Sound to a Historian,” I learned about the Memoryscapes project, a series of audio tours of locations in London. You can download MP3 files, maps, and brief text explanations. The site bills these audio walks—which combine original music, sound effects, and voices—as “Voices from the hidden history of the Thames.” The MP3s are more sound art than history (in the words of Jerry Seinfeld: not that there’s anything wrong with that), but they offer intriguing possibilities for how to produce engaging public and oral history projects using sound.

I also learned at the panel that the Oral History Association revised its guidelines to recommend that oral historians record not only the voices of their interview subjects but also historically significant soundscapes and sound artifacts from an interview subject’s life. That is perhaps easier said than done (how do you capture the sounds of a long shuttered factory?) but points to a new awareness among historians of the importance of sound in both understanding and presenting the past.

I’m thinking about sound in history lately, so I’d welcome any thoughts about Memoryscapes or similar efforts.

Last 5 posts by Ellen Noonan

1 Comment
2009 January 9
Aaron Knoll permalink

I know this might be a change of pace from our initial discussions, but I’m very into the American folk movement and really early folk recordings. Perhaps that book you mentioned in an earlier e-mail, or another book about music/history might be an apt choice for our reading selection? I think that sound in history might be an interesting topic that ties very directly into the missions of ASHP and the NML (as well as our personal tastes).

Comments are closed for this entry.