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Auditory Memory and Sound Archives (Late 19th Century – Present)


Dr. Viktoria Tkaczyk (UvA)

Members of the research group

dr. S.R. Amico
dr. C.J. Birdsall
J.A. Burgoyne PhD
prof.dr. H.J. Honing
dr. J.D. Kiverstein
prof.dr. J.J.E. Kursell
prof.dr. J.J. Noordegraaf
dr. M.S. Parry
dr. V. Tkaczyk
External Member:
A. Kvicalova (UvA/ MPIWG, PhD candidate)
B. Lange (Humboldt University)
J. Kreutzfeldt (University of Copenhagen)
K. Bijsterveld (Maastricht University)
M. Mills (New York University)
M.M. Mervant-Roux (ARIAS, CNRS, Paris)
R. Franzen
W. Rodenhuis (Bijzondere Collecties)

Description of the research programme of the research group

In the first instance, the research group aims at establishing a broad discussion on the notion of the “auditory memory” within the field of memory studies. The group seeks to investigate the auditory memory which has been largely neglected in favor of visually‐oriented arts of memorization, with their long tradition within rhetoric (ars memorativa). A central concern is to what extent different forms of sound memorization have become relevant in science, art and media technology from the late‐nineteenth century to the present. The project will especially focus on how sound has been stored and archived with the aid of different media technologies, material cultures and bodily techniques, and how each of these forms of auditory memories has generated a specific form of “cultural heritage of sound”. The research group focuses on three main, intersecting strands:
1. The first strand concerns how human auditory memory has been defined in physiological research from the late nineteenth century, and subsequently in the cognitive sciences. How do medical notions of “auditory memory” correspond with or differ from concepts of auditory memorization related to rhetoric or media technology?
2. The second strand concerns the establishment of sound archives as formal institutions. Who has been involved in founding sound archives since the late‐nineteenth century? And what rationale was provided for their formation? How did different disciplines such as phonetics, physiology (of speech and hearing), (comparative) musicology or theatre studies approach and make (scientific) use of these archives?
3. A third, related strand concerns the preservation and presentation of sound archival material in the present. How did the status of sound archives change through the invention of radio and new means of sound recording and digitisation during the course of the twentieth century to the present? How might sound archives transform exhibition strategies of museums and art galleries to fully exploit their collections for public use? This takes exhibition work in a new direction by considering the implications of sound archives for public history practice. Public history can be most easily defined as history designed for, and with, the public, but in its most interesting form, has come to mean history that is popular, participatory, and with the potential for social change. In this understanding, public history is about cultivating critical awareness of the practices of history-making and their implication and demonstrating how the past shapes the present. In doing so, an effective public history project thus also demonstrates the potential of using history as a tool to reshape society.

Envisaged results

As a result of the workshop “Auditory Memory and Sound Archives” (18 Feb. 2013, UvA) which has been organized with international colleagues, a funding proposal is currently being prepared (Free Competition Humanities, NWO), including two PhD-positions and one Postdoc-position (expected results: two international conferences, three monographs, journal articles, sound exhibition). The group will also cooperate with the research project “The making of acoustics in 16th to 19th century Europe” (Max-Planck-Institute for the History of Science / Volkswagen foundation, dir. Tkaczyk, PhD: Kvicalova) in order to provide a historical long term-perspective on the history of auditory memory. We will further collaborate with the DFG-Netzwerk “Hör-Wissen im Wandel” ( We have also been invited to collaborate with the French research project “ECHO [ECrire l'Histoire de l'Oral]. Mouvements du phonique dans l'image scénique (1950-2000) (dir. Mervant-Roux, ANR-proposal in preparation). The public history potential in sound archives will be addressed in a forthcoming conference co-organized by group member Manon Parry, as part of the planned 2014 Amsterdam meeting of the International Federation for Public History, funded in part by the Institute of Culture and History and the Cultural Heritage and Identity research priority area at the University of Amsterdam.

Work plan and time schedule

The working group is already meeting on a regular basis. The NWO-proposal shall be submitted in May 2013. We will start in January 2014 with the four-year research project (PhDs 3 years, Postdoc 2 years).

Societal relevance

The research group seeks to expand the knowledge on how sound archives can be put to public use. One example is to investigate to what extend we can transform exhibition strategies of museums and art
galleries in order to fully exploit their audio collections and making them known and available for a large audience. Furthermore we aim at providing deeper insights into historical notions of the “auditory memory” and historic-specific modes of production and use of sound archives, in order to better understanding of our current cultural heritage of sound.