Sound Politics: Critically Listening to the Past
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This issue of Radical History Review explores sound as a critical register of social and political life. The feature essays illustrate the long history of contested soundscapes and offer methodological insights into how we can begin to hear and incorporate them into historical analysis.
Hearing the History of Political Protest Michael Sizer looks at “murmur” and “clamor” as well as the bell or tocsin in medieval revolt in France, Flanders, and England as part of a vibrant aural political culture that challenged dominant powers. Lilian Radovac traces how the PA system provided both opportunities for amplified crowd protest and challenges to state authority in New York during the 1930s, as well as the city’s attempts to control this sonic development. Roshanak Kheshti traces how rooftop chanting in Iran both in 1979 and 2009 enacted a counter-politics of sonic performativity.
Intervention Nicholas Terpstra tracks shifts in the regulation and prosecution of prostitution in Renaissance Florence to illuminate shifts in the signs, sounds, and politics of sex and the sacred.
Articulating Identity, Hierarchy, and Power Hillary Taylor examines the role of stammering and perceptions of plebian inarticulacy in early modern England. Johan Heisen turns to the soundscape of the colonial ship as a site of classed speech, where officers demeaned lower class maritime worker speech as inarticulate “noise.” Josephine Hoegaerts examines parliamentary oratory to demonstrate how oral performance culture was refracted by hardening social expectations and distinctions.
Politicizing Sound and Noise Two essays by Jennifer Stoever and David Suisman illustrate both state engagement with sound and local community responses. Stoever examines the ambiguous meaning of noise by relating how postwar New York’s black community adjusted its own community standards while simultaneously engaging with the soundscapes of recent Latin American and Caribbean immigrants in Harlem. Suisman looks at the how the US government’s 1964 experiments with the effects of sonic booms on Oklahoma City residents initiated a “technopolitics” of sound with lasting repercussions for everyday life and in the military use of sound.
Teaching Radical History Tracing the genealogy of her course on the politics of music, Catherine Baker illustrates some of the insights gained and problems encountered in using music as a form of sound in the digital era.