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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August 18, 2022