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Emily Thompson

Dr. Emily Thompson is a history professor at Princeton University interested in the history of technology with a particular focus on late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century America.  From her faculty page at Princeton, she writes that her research “explores the cultural history of sound, music, noise, and listening, and focuses on how these phenomena and activities intersect with technologies like the phonograph, motion pictures, and architecture.”

Thompson’s most widely known and cited work is The Soundscape of Modernity: Architectural Acoustics and the Culture of Listening in America, 1900-1933 (2002).  In the book, she examines changes to aural culture in the U.S. in the early twentieth-century.  Thompson argues that modern technology changed the way people listened along with transforming America’s soundscape—i.e. what people heard.

Thompson writes that during this period (1900-33), “sounds became signals,” positing that the “desire for clear, controlled, signal-like sound became pervasive, and anything that interfered with this goal was now engineered out of existence” (3).  Moving away from Murray Schafer’s conception of soundscape and drawing on the work of Alain Corbin, Thompson defines the soundscape “as an auditory or aural landscape.  Like a landscape, a soundscape is simultaneously a physical environment and a way of perceiving that environment; it is both a world and a culture constructed to make sense of that world” (1).

The Soundscape of Modernity is referenced in two of Andra’s articles on this site:  “Ethical questions about working with soundscapes” and  “Soundwalking: creating moving environmental sound narratives.”

Thompson is currently working on a book project entitled Sound Effects, which looks at the working lives of those involved with film exhibition in America from 1925-1933, including projectionists, sound engineers, musicians, and editors.  For more information on Thompson and a more comprehensive list of her publications, please refer to: Emily Thompson

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