Archiving Sound in the Humanities

11Mar2016 13Mar2016


On the 11-13th of March, the Humboldt-Universität in Berlin and the Max Planck Institute for the History of Science will host the conference 'LISTENING TO THE ARCHIVE, Histories of Sound Data in the Humanities and Sciences', which is co-funded by the Amsterdam Centre for Cultural Heritage and Identity (ACHI).

In 1915, the Berlin phonetician Wilhelm Doegen initiated the Royal Prussian PhonographicCommission, one of the most systematic enterprises in early sound archiving. For this project, the phonograph and gramophone served as tools to collect and study a wide range of languages, music, and natural sounds. Contributors to the initiative included researchers based in disciplines such as phonetics, linguistics, Oriental and African studies, musicology and anthropology, zoology, medicine, and criminology.

Between 1915 and 1918, over 1,030 Edison cylinders with musical recordings (today stored in the Berlin Phonogram Archive) and over 1,650 shellac recordings of the languages of prisoners of war were produced. Today, thiscollection forms part of the “Lautarchiv” held at the Hermann von Helmholtz-Zentrum für Kulturtechnik, Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin.

A century after Doegen’s project, this conference reexamines the founding, use, and reuse of sound archives in the humanities and sciences. One of its aims is to contextualize pioneering scientific sound archives, and thus the development of recording technologies, archival practices, and new research methods and disciplines. A second objective is to explore the relationship between the history of scientific sound archiving and the role of contemporary sound archives in the creation and dissemination of knowledge. The archive’s centenary also prompts questions about the status of sound archives in the present digital era: providing access to sound records opens up possibilities for new research agendas, but inevitably also raises complex ethical and legal issues.

Among the confirmed speakers are Rebecca Lemov (Harvard University), Mara Mills (New York University) and Ji-Won Song (Gugak Center, Seoul).