Soundscapes in the Early Modern World

Lead Research Organisation: Liverpool John Moores University
Department Name: Sch of Humanities and Social Science


This project will establish an international network of interdisciplinary scholars working on the period from c. 1500-1800 to develop new approaches to uncovering the sounds of the early modern world. Our focus is on how sonic interaction shapes early modern identities. From the chiming of the clock regulating the daily patterns of the city, to the bell calling all to church, the itinerant ballad hawker singing the ballads they wanted to sell, and the literate reading pamphlets to the illiterate, sounds governed everyday life. The network will explore how sounds create communities, civil society, sociability and ways of knowing and understanding the wider world and the self. We will consider how under-explored music was performed in particular places and spaces. We will unearth sensory stories of the past and how they connect with the soundscape. The project will extend our understanding of early printed texts, music and sites where sounds are heard: it will make knowledge of them available to a wider community, and foster opportunities for future collaborations.

The network will organise three interdisciplinary workshops, an international conference and commission an electroacoustic composition that recreates the sounds of the past. We will also organise public events in collaboration with our partners; the National Trust, the Wellcome Collection and the University of British Columbia. The workshops will be centred around three key topics and how they relate to sound: theory, space, archives. Practice-led events such as practical demonstrations and skills-set sharing will be included in the workshops and in the conference. We will also establish a blog where approaches to soundscapes can be developed and ideas shared. Network members will contribute podcasts, written reports from events and online resources that will be of interest to academic and non-academic audiences.

The major academic intervention in the field that the project will make is to develop a fully multidisciplinary understanding of what the 'soundscape' is and how this broadens our understanding of every day life in the early modern period.

Planned Impact

Our impact activities are linked directly to the series of planned workshops and to the final international conference; these activities include a performance (workshop 1 and conference); a public lecture (workshop 2 and conference) and blog posts on selected items from the Wellcome Collection (workshop 3). The public lectures will be filmed and made available, along with an explanatory commentary, on the project blog. This forms a key part of our impact activity, and will reach a global audience through being promoted on social media. Network members will also be asked to commit material to the blog to ensure that it is regularly updated. In so doing, we will accumulate a rich archive of materials that seek to uncover the sounds of the past. Alongside the recordings of public lectures, we will also conduct interviews with network members and partners and supply case studies that will make for a dynamic and absorbing reception history.

In collaboration with Speke Hall and the National Trust, we will organise a series of events on the soundscape of the country house, with particular reference to Speke Hall's recusant past. We will commission an electoacoustic composer to record sounds at Speke Hall and produce a composition and performance that will enable us to engage with the sounds of the past through novel and invigorating performances. These events will help us to explore the three key topics of the network and enable the general public to reflect more carefully about noise and how we listen to sounds.

We have already established contact with the National Trust, the Wellcome Collection and the University of British Columbia and we will run events in collaboration with each of these partners. The network aims to consolidate these links and to identify new partners and beneficiaries.


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Description We have begun to think more carefully about the relationship between social identity, space and sound. It's too early to comment upon where this might lead.
Exploitation Route Pathways to impact: there is the potential for further sound installations to be generated at other National Trust Properties, which will enhance the visitor experience and engagement with the properties.
Conversations with the Wellcome Collection have led to further work on the relationship between sound and their collections. These include work on two transcriptions of a lecture on hearing, which will consider the relationship between sound, hearing and mishearing.
Sectors Culture, Heritage, Museums and Collections

Description National Trust 
Organisation National Trust
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Charity/Non Profit 
PI Contribution Collaborated with Peter Falconer to create a sound story for use at Speke Hall.
Collaborator Contribution Access to the Hall and suggestions on how to tailor the story to the spaces in which it will be played.
Impact A sound story, which will form part of the visitor experience at Speke Hall. This is a multi-disciplinary collaboration involving an electroacoustic composer, a literary historian and heritage partners.
Start Year 2019
Description University of British Columbia 
Organisation University of British Columbia
Country Canada 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution We co-organised a workshop on sound and architecture, which included a public lecture.
Collaborator Contribution In partnership, we ran a two-day workshop and a public lecture at the University of British Columbia.
Impact Collaboration still on-going.
Start Year 2019
Description Wellcome Collection 
Organisation Wellcome Collection
Department Wellcome Libary
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Charity/Non Profit 
PI Contribution We co-organised a workshop at the Wellcome Collection
Collaborator Contribution In partnership, we organised a workshop on archives of sound and hearing, where the Wellcome Collection made available items for consultation.
Impact This is on-going work. We have outputs planned.
Start Year 2019
Description Public Lecture 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact A public lecture with Serena Korda at the Bluecoat Arts Centre. Here we discussed sound and architectural space, with specific reference to Speke Hall and sound art Serena had designed for the Hall. This increased interest in our activities at Speke Hall, and a member of the general public later contacted me for further discussions.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019