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[Extract] The American lyricist Ira Gershwin had a sensitive ear for the sounds of the modern world. In 1932 he listed in his diary: ‘Heard in a day: An elevator’s purr, telephone’s ring, telephone’s buzz, a baby’s moans, a shout of delight, a screech from a “flat wheel”, hoarse honks, a hoarse voice, a tinkle, a match scratch on sandpaper, a deep resounding boom of dynamiting in the impending subway, iron hooks on the gutter.’ The publication of this book makes a contribution to the scholarly conversation about the role of the senses in historical research. The past 20 years has witnessed a turn towards the sensuous, particularly the aural, as a viable space for critical exploration in both history and other humanities disciplines. This has been informed by a heightened awareness of the role that the senses play in shaping modern identity and understanding of place, so evocatively described by Ira Gershwin’s daily catalogue of sounds above, and increasingly, how the senses are central to the memory of past experiences and their representation. The result has been a broadening of our historical imagination, which has previously taken the visual for granted and ignored the other senses. Considering how crucial the auditory aspect of life has been, a shift from seeing to hearing past societies offers a further perspective for examining the complexity of historical events and experiences.


Institute for Humanities and Social Sciences

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