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Review of Barbara Lorenzkowski. 2010. Sounds of Ethnicity. Listening to German North America 1850–1914. Winnipeg:University of Manitoba Press

Feiereisen, Florence

In her seminal work on the sound of German ethnicity in the Great Lakes
region in the six decades prior to World War I, Lorenzkowski adds an important
aural dimension to the historiography of German culture in North
America. By studying past sounds of rural Waterloo County, Ontario and
industrialized urban Buffalo, New York, she allows her readers to tune in to
the public and private worlds of German migrants and their self–declared
leaders as they practiced and performed their ethnic consciousness in the
transnational borderland of the Great Lakes region.
How can our understanding of the past be deepened by the study of
its sounds? Hearing is a process of perceiving the world and contributes to
our daily acquisition of knowledge. “[K]nowing the world through sound,”
as Bruce Smith suggests, “is fundamentally different from knowing the
world through vision” (2003:4). This notion can—and should—be applied
to academic research; indeed, several disciplines, history included, have
been experiencing a “sonic turn.” In Hearing History, sensory historian
Mark M. Smith writes about the increasing focus on the aural in historical
research:“This intensification holds out to the prospect of helping to redirect
in some profoundly important ways what is often the visually oriented
discipline of history, a discipline replete with emphases on the search for ‘perspective’ and ‘focus’ through the ‘lens’ of evidence, one heavily, if often
unthinkingly, indebted to the visualism of ‘Enlightenment’ thinking and
ways of understanding the word”.



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Columbia University
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September 29, 2014