Sound & Sense in Britain, 1770-1840
Understandings of the senses underwent a radical reimagining toward the last few decades of the eighteenth century in Britain, a shift evident in the domains of philosophy, physiology, politics, and the arts. Sound played a pivotal role in many of these engagements with post-Lockean empiricism, as vibration and sympathy became widespread metaphors for mental activity, shared sentiments, and aesthetic experiences. If sound was central to the debates of the Scottish and English Enlightenment, it was equally important to the popular culture of religious revival. In the volatile and heady decades after the American and French revolutions, sound became freighted with new ideological meaning, informing modes of political activity. At the same time, nascent industrialization was frequently experienced in terms of sonic excess, as the clamour of factories and rapidly growing cities brought on new awareness of the potential power of sound to disturb social order.
In recent years, British culture between 1770-1840 has been extensively read through visual tropes such as spectacle and theatricality, and new technologies of visual entertainment (the panorama, diorama, eidophusikon…). However, the sounds of this period, in contrast to the Victorian soundscape, have received far less attention from historians of British culture. This interdisciplinary conference brings together musicologists, literary scholars, and historians under the framework of sound studies to consider the changing understandings of sound, including music and noise, in Britain at the cusp of the nineteenth century. On Saturday we will be holding a workshop for conference participants to discuss draft papers. We encourage interested scholars from Columbia and the New York area to join the conversation. Pre-registration is required (further details to come).