Sound and Sense in Britain, 1770-1840

Friday, May 12, 2017 - Saturday, May 13, 2017  1:30pm The Heyman Center, Second Floor Common Room


Free and open to the public

First come, first seated


Image Credit: The ArtsMusic


James Grande

Carmel Raz


Understandings of the senses underwent a radical reimagining toward the last few decades of the eighteenth century in Britain, a shift evident in the domains of philosophy, physiology, politics, and the arts. Sound played a pivotal role in many of these engagements with post-Lockean empiricism, as vibration and sympathy became widespread metaphors for mental activity, shared sentiments, and aesthetic experiences. If sound was central to the debates of the Scottish and English Enlightenment, it was equally important to the popular culture of religious revival. In the volatile and heady decades after the American and French revolutions, sound became freighted with new ideological meaning, informing modes of political activity. At the same time, nascent industrialization was frequently experienced in terms of sonic excess, as the clamour of factories and rapidly growing cities brought on new awareness of the potential power of sound to disturb social order.

In recent years, British culture between 1770-1840 has been extensively read through visual tropes such as spectacle and theatricality, and new technologies of visual entertainment (the panorama, diorama, eidophusikon…). However, the sounds of this period, in contrast to the Victorian soundscape, have received far less attention from historians of British culture. This interdisciplinary conference brings together musicologists, literary scholars, and historians under the framework of sound studies to consider the changing understandings of sound, including music and noise, in Britain at the cusp of the nineteenth century. On Saturday we will be holding a workshop for conference participants to discuss draft papers.  We encourage interested scholars from Columbia and the New York area to join the conversation. Pre-registration is required (further details to come).


Friday, May 12: Talks

1:30-3:45: Globalization, Colonisation, Revolution

David Kennerley, ‘A great moral and social revolution’: The Lancashire and 
Cheshire Working Men’s Singing Classes and the sounds of Chartism
Maria Semi, Sound and Senses Going Global in C18 Britain
Josephine McDonagh, John Galt and the Sounds of Colonisation    

3:45-4:15: Reception

4:15-6:30: Sound, Science, Spectacle                     

Kathy Fry, Mary Somerville’s Sound Accomplishments ca. 1834
Melissa Dickson, Tuning In with the Stethoscope in the 19th C.
Oskar Cox Jensen, Of Sight and Sound, or, Realising The Enraged Musician


Saturday, May 13: Workshop 

10:00-12:30: Power, Interest, Liberty

James Chandler, ‘Prophetic Harmony’: Wordsworth and the Sound of Power
Rowan Boyson, Pleasure, Pollution and the Prosodic Turn
Nicholas Mathew, Haydn, Interest, and the Commercial Streetscape in 1790s London    

1:30-2:15 Ecomusicologies

Ellen Lockhart, Lupus tonalis
Jonathan Hicks, Aurality, Mobility, and Fingal’s Cave

3:15-4:45: Speaking and Listening 

James Grande, On Tongues and Ears: Divine Voices in the Modern Metropolis
Carmel Raz, ‘To ‘Fill Up, Completely the Whole Capacity of the Mind’: Listening and Attention in Late Eighteenth-Century Scotland  

5:00-6:00        Discussion


  • Participants

    Emily Bloom

    Lecturer, Department of English and Comparative Literature

    Columbia University

  • Rowan Boyson

    Senior Lecturer in English Literature

    King's College London

  • James Chandler

    Barbara E. & Richard J. Franke Distinguished Service Professor

    University of Chicago

  • Oskar Cox-Jensen

    Research Fellow: Music in London 1800-1851

    King's College London

  • Melissa Dickson

    Postdoctoral Research Assistant

    St Anne's College University of Oxford

  • Kathy Fry

    Postdoctoral Research Associate

    King's College London

  • Eileen Gillooly

    Executive Director

    Heyman Center for the Humanities

  • James Grande

    Lecturer in Eighteenth-Century Literature and Culture

    King's College London

  • Jonathan Hicks

    Research Fellow: Music in London 1800-1851

    King's College London

  • David Kennerley

    Postdoctoral Research Associate

    King's College London

  • Ellen Lockhart

    Assistant Professor: Musicology

    University of Toronto

  • Nicholas Mathew

    Associate Professor, Music History

    University of California, Berkeley

  • Josephine McDonagh

    Professor of Nineteenth-century Literature

    King's College London

  • Carmel Raz

    Lecturer in Music

    Columbia University

  • Maria Semi


    University of Göttingen
    Lichtenberg-Kolleg / Historic Observatory

  • Benjamin Steege

    Assistant Professor of Music

    Columbia University

  • Dustin D. Stewart

    Assistant Professor of English and Comparative Literature

    Columbia University

  • Sejal Sutaria

    Marie Sklodowska-Curie Fellow

    King's College London


By Semester