Listening to Nature and Standardizing Sound

30 Oct 2014
4:00 pm - 6:00 pm

470 Stephens Hall

Event Type

Alexandra Hui
Associate Professor of History, Mississippi State University

My larger interests are in the creation and maintenance of listening practices.  I ask what informs scientific communities’ process of perceptual standardization, and what are the consequences for these individuals’ listening, their science, and their understanding of the environment. So, how did individuals’ conception of their environment relate to their aural perception of it? I am especially interested in this with respect to the subfields of biology that study vocal species—ornithology, marine biology, herpetology, entomology, etc.  In this talk, I will give a brief overview of my monograph project on how field scientists learn to listen in the twentieth century.  I will then offer a close examination of field notebooks, correspondence, academic articles, and field guides to trace the changing efforts of both avocational birders and ornithologists to represent bird sounds according to new standards and goals.  These efforts to represent bird song, often in visual form, made it into a scientific object.  They also made specific birds’ songs repeatable and transportable; separate in time and space from the bird itself.  This narrative arc provides insight into how scientific communities standardize subjective aural experiences, perhaps at the cost of alienating nature from the individual listener’s experience of it.

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