With increasing interest in the representation of histories of mental health in museums, sound has played a key role as a tool to access a range of voices. This essay discusses how sound can be used to give voice to those previously silenced. The focus is on the use of sound recording in the history of mental health care, and the archival sources left behind for potential reuse. Exhibition strategies explored include the use of sound to interrogate established narratives, to interrupt associations visitors make when viewing the material culture of mental health, and to foster empathic listening among audiences.
Listening to the Mind: Tracing the Auditory History of Mental Illness in Archives and Exhibitions
Carolyn Birdsall is Assistant Professor of Media Studies, University of Amsterdam. Her monograph, Nazi Soundscapes: Sound, Technology and Urban Space in Germany, 1933–1945, was published by Amsterdam University Press in 2012. Her current work investigates the early history of radio archiving and emergent concepts of “documentary sound” in interwar European media culture.
Manon Parry is Assistant Professor of Public History, University of Amsterdam. She has curated exhibitions on global health and human rights, disability in the American Civil War, and medicinal and recreational drug use. She is the author of Broadcasting Birth Control: Mass Media and Family Planning (Rutgers University Press, 2013).
Viktoria Tkaczyk is Assistant Professor of Arts and New Media, University of Amsterdam, and the director of a research group on the history of acoustics at the Max Planck Institute for the History of Science in Berlin. Her new project is entitled “The Past in the Ear: A History of Auditory Memory.”
Carolyn Birdsall, Manon Parry, Viktoria Tkaczyk; Listening to the Mind: Tracing the Auditory History of Mental Illness in Archives and Exhibitions. The Public Historian 1 November 2015; 37 (4): 47–72. doi: https://doi.org/10.1525/tph.2015.37.4.47
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