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Thinking with Sound

A New Program in the Sciences and Humanities around 1900

Thinking with Sound traces the formation of auditory knowledge in the sciences and humanities in the decades around 1900.
When the outside world is silent, all sorts of sounds often come to mind: inner voices, snippets of past conversations, imaginary debates, beloved and unloved melodies. What should we make of such sonic companions? Thinking with Sound investigates a period when these and other newly perceived aural phenomena prompted a far-reaching debate. Through case studies from Paris, Vienna, and Berlin, Viktoria Tkaczyk shows that the identification of the auditory cortex in late nineteenth-century neuroanatomy affected numerous academic disciplines across the sciences and humanities. “Thinking with sound” allowed scholars and scientists to bridge the gaps between theoretical and practical knowledge, and between academia and the social, aesthetic, and industrial domains. As new recording technologies prompted new scientific questions, new auditory knowledge found application in industry and the broad aesthetic realm. Through these conjunctions, Thinking with Sound offers a deeper understanding of today’s second “acoustic turn” in science and scholarship.

304 pages | 58 halftones | 6 x 9 | © 2023

History: European History

History of Science

Music: General Music


“Sound turned the world on its ear around 1900. Tkaczyk takes us to the primal scenes of modern thought—with an unheard-of twist. Charcot’s tuning fork and Freud’s hearing cap, Saussure’s gramophone and Ernst Mach’s concert halls, Carl Stumpf’s interference apparatus and Otto Abraham’s parrot all reverberate in this rich intellectual soundscape, explaining how these influential new fields of knowledge emerged in tandem with new auditory techniques for speech, music, and noise. Cutting joyously across disciplinary divides, this remarkable book shows how the modern humanities truly learned to ‘think with sound.’”

Alexander Rehding, Harvard University

“Tkaczyk’s transformative Thinking with Sound shows how research on sound was central to the formation of modern human sciences in Europe and North America at the turn of the last century. Tkaczyk offers an ambitious and polymathic history, one that spans disciplines, languages, and nations. Thinking with Sound is a major step forward in the intellectual history of sound and charts a new path in the history of the humanities. It is also an inspiring book for anyone interested in new approaches to the history of knowledge.”

Jonathan Sterne, author of 'Diminished Faculties: A Political Phenomenology of Impairment' and 'MP3: The Meaning of a Format'

“As wide-ranging as it is erudite, Thinking with Sound remaps our historical understanding of the dynamic connections between bodies and minds at the turn of the twentieth century, and it demonstrates resoundingly the significance of the ear in linking the two realms. An indispensable contribution to understanding the disciplinary character of knowledge construction, Tkaczyk’s work, like that of the scholars she studies, also demonstrates convincingly the intellectual riches to be found at the porous boundaries between disciplines, where science, medicine, technology, the humanities, and the arts all come together.”

Emily Thompson, author of 'The Soundscape of Modernity'

Table of Contents

List of Illustrations
1. Introduction: Disciplining Auditory Cognition
2. The Sonic Unconscious: Neuropathology and Psychoanalysis
3. Auditory Images: Linguistics and Metaphysics
4. Sound as a Comparative Object: Physics Meets Psychology
5. Aural Attention: Muscle Feelings and the Quest for Authority in the Arts
6. New Brains, Ears, and Tongues: Disciplines of Language Planning
7. Conclusion: Time Leaps

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