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Sound of Nature – Soundscapes and Environmental Awareness

25 January 2022

Interdisciplinary project studies early indicator of environmental change, exploring the sounds of nature from Romanticism to the 1940s

A new research project aims to investigate representations of natural sound and its links to the rise of environmental ideologies and conservation institutions.

The Sound of Nature: Soundscapes and Environmental Awareness, 1750-1950 will examine how natural sound and natural silence are constructed in other historical periods and how that continues to shape contemporary attitudes to the sound of nature.

In the process, researchers from Humboldt Universität zu Berlin and Cardiff University will create a transferable methodology for thinking about how such fleeting phenomena shape our understanding of the environment in the past, present and future.

Focusing on the period before sound recording was possible, the project aims to establish an environmental history of sound, connecting concepts and approaches from the history of science, sound studies, environmental humanities and literary criticism.

Spanning two centuries and national contexts in Europe, the three-year project will argue that the perception and written representation of sounds in natural settings played a crucial role in developing and fostering environmental awareness and conservation discourse.

Researchers will work in distinct phases, beginning with analysing the role of sound in the establishment of nature conservation before turning to the impact of literary representations of sound on environmental awareness. They aim to develop new interdisciplinary methodologies to explore the historical role of sound in constructing conceptions of the natural environment.

In an age where human activity has proved the dominant influence on our climate and environment, lead investigator Professor Martin Willis and project consultant Dr Jamie Castell explain the wider relevance of the project:

“Building on research founded in early conservationism, modern ecological thinking and continuity and discontinuity with Romanticism, The Sound of Nature will expand our understanding not only of how the sound of nature is understood and presented in an era marked by radical environmental transformation but also its role in developing an early awareness of environmental change.”

“By examining the ways in which sounds were recorded and presented in writing and how they triggered specific sets of emotions in readers before and since the earliest phonographic recording, we aim to offer innovative ways to understand human relationships with nature and perceptions of change.”

The Sound of Nature: Soundscapes and Environmental Awareness, 1750-1950 is a joint collaboration between Cardiff University and Humboldt Universität zu Berlin, funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council and the German Research Foundation.

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