Sound, Language & The Making of Urban Space

CFP Sound City 2023

Contemporary histories of sound and hearing often open with a lament that this subject matter has too long been ignored in favour of studies of the written word or of vision. But over the last two decades, auditory history has entered the discipline with a vengeance – at the intersection of the history of music, the body, technology, medicine, disability, the environment, and everyday life.

Thus wrote the American historian Sophia Rosenfeld a decade ago. Since then, the study of sound history, listening regimes, auditory practices and the cultural history of noise and silence has continued to bloom and bud, often with the context of the city and urban life at its centre. From the late Raymond Murray Schafer’s pioneering studies of the urban soundscape via Bruce Smith’s concept of “acoustic communities” and Karin Bijsterveld’s and Peter Payer’s explorations into the conceptualization and abatement of urban noise to Emily Thompson’s study of architectural acoustics. Lately, new approaches focusing on social engineering, the sonic personae, auditory cultures and sonic effects in the production of urban space have appeared and further increased our knowledge and curiosity about the interrelationship between sound and the city.

Although rarely treated in the context of historical sound studies, the diversity of languages also forms a central part of urban soundscapes. Conversations, shouts and singing, in the marketplaces, busses, schoolyards etc. work as semiotic elements in human constructions of and navigation in urban spaces. In recent years, the study of dialects has also circled back to the city, investigating and rediscovering how urban communities are both shaped by and shaping linguistic development on the national level and beyond.

This conference centres on the city, the metropolis, and sound and language as central elements in producing urban spaces and communities. The organizers particularly welcome contributions that explore ways in which sonic and linguistic approaches to urban communities, lifestyles and practices can enrich each other.

Participation is free for speakers.

Participation fee for other participants: DKK 100 (lunch and coffee included).


Sophia Rosenfeld: On Being Heard 2.0 – The Historical Ear Revisited

Sophia Rosenfeld is Professor of History at the University of Pennsylvania with a special interest in European intellectual and cultural history with a special emphasis on the Enlightenment, the trans-Atlantic Age of Revolutions, and the legacy of the eighteenth century for modern democracy. Among her most important publications are A Revolution in Language: The Problem of Signs in Late Eighteenth-Century France (Stanford, 2001); Common Sense: A Political History (Harvard, 2011), and Democracy and Truth: A Short History (Penn Press, 2019). Currently she is co-editing the 6-volume series, A Cultural History of Ideas, out this fall (2022). Among her other interests are the history of the emotions and the senses; the history of free speech, dissent, and censorship; the history of aesthetics, including dance; the history of political language; contemporary political theory and feminist theory; the history of epistemology; the history of information and misinformation; and experimental historical methods. Rosenfeld has received fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation, the School of Social Science at the Institute for Advanced Studies in Princeton, the Mellon Foundation, both the Remarque Institute and the Center for Ballet and the Arts at NYU, and the American Council of Learned Societies, as well as visiting professorships at the University of Virginia School of Law and the École des Hautes Études en ciences Sociales.

David Garrioch: What is urban about Early Modern urban sound?

David Garrioch is professor emeritus at Monash University and has published extensively on Early Modern Urban History with a particular interest in Eighteenth Century Paris, including the award-winning The Making of Revolutionary Paris from 2003 and the seminal work Neighbourhood and Community in Paris 1740-1790 from 1986. His most recent book is The Huguenots of Paris and the coming of Religious Freedom (Cambridge UP, 2014). Currently he is working on several projects, including a fire history of European cities from the 16th to the 19th century, a history of religious confraternities in eighteenth-century Paris, a collaborative book on women’s letter-writing in Early Modern Europe, and a study of artisan
mobility in eighteenth-century Paris. Visiting Fellow at the Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales in Paris in 2003 and early 2008. Visiting Professor at the Ecole Normale Supérieure in Lyons, 2005. He is a Fellow of the Australian Academy of the Humanities, served on the Executive of the Australian Historical Association, the Editorial Boards of H-France, French Historical Studies, Revue d’histoire moderne et contemporaine and Parergon.

Karin Bijsterveld: Stolen Silence: Listening to the History of Quiet Spaces in Urban Environments

Karin Bijsterveld is professor of Science, Technology & Modern Culture at Maastricht University and has published extensively on the history of sound. Among her key publications are Mechanical Sound: Technology, Culture and Public Problems of Noise in the Twentieth Century (2008), Sound Souvenirs: Audio Technologies, Memory and Cultural Practices (coedited with José van Dijck, 2009), The Oxford Handbook of Sound Studies (co-edited with Trevor Pinch, 2012) and Sound and Safe: A History of Listening behind the Wheel (with Eefje Cleophas, Stefan Krebs and Gijs Mom, 2014). She has edited Soundscapes of the Urban Past: Staged Sound as Mediated Cultural Heritage (2013) and a special issue on Auditory History for The Public Historian (2015). In 2019, she published a synthesizing, open access publication about the history of listening in the sciences: Sonic Skills: Listening for Knowledge in Science, Medicine and Engineering (1920s-present).2 Bijsterveld is founding member of the European Sound Studies Association, member of the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences, and of the Royal Holland Society of Sciences and Humanities. A recent publication is an article on speaker identification at the Stasi (Isis, 2021), and an upcoming one is the open access Palgrave volume Interdisciplinarity in the Scholarly Life Cycle (with Aagje Swinnen).



The conference is organized by Sounds of the Capital, a collaborative research and dissemination project investigating the sonic history of Copenhagen.

  • Jakob Ingemann Parby, senior curator, Museum of Copenhagen (PI)
  • Pia Quist, professor, Department of Nordic Studies and Linguistics, University of Copenhagen
  • Bjarne Simmelkjær Hansen, Department of Nordic Studies and Linguistics, University of Copenhagen
  • Kasper H. Andersen, Team leader of History, Moesgaard Museum
  • Mikkel Thelle, senior researcher, The National Museum of Denmark
  • Vivi Lena Andersen, head of public outreach, Museum of Copenhagen
  • Regitze Lindø Vestergaard, curator, Museum of Copenhagen

The project has been made possible by a generous grant from The Velux Foundation.