Between the Senses: A Vision of the Audible Past

The inspirational source for this exhibit is Jonathan Sterne’s* The Audible Past: Cultural Origins of Sound Reproduction (2003). With this study, Sterne seeks to challenge the “visual hegemony” of sight as the sense of rationality in the West, by telling a story where “sound, hearing, and listening are foundational to modern modes of knowledge, culture, and social organization.” Rather than modernization being a movement away from a culture of sound to a culture of sight, the two histories are different maps of the same terrain. In studying this auditory map, Sterne works towards the development of sound as a theoretical problem for scholars in the social sciences and begins the piecing together of fragmented histories and philosophies of sound in the shape of a particular sound culture that emerged in the West between 1750 and 1925. The five senses of the body are cultivated and informed by the society and culture in which the subject who possesses them dwells; our senses, and the techniques and technologies we have developed to use them, are themselves artifacts of human history. Sterne uses sound reproduction technologies as an in-road to examining the emergence and evolution of this sound culture. For this, he utilizes the wealth of documents surrounding the development of the telephone, phonography, and radio, where historical actors dealt with changing understandings of the nature and meaning of sound. This exhibit is our interpretation of this story told through the wealth of objects connected with the hearing, communicating, and preserving of sound available in Harvard’s Collection of Historical Scientific Instruments.

Between the Senses…” has been brought to life through the combined effort of students and CHSI staff as the final project for History of Science 289: Entangled Objects: Or the Stuff of Science, Culture, and Society.


Samuel Becker
Hannah Conway
Diane Garvey
Michael Grasso
Jiho Kang
Daryl McCurdy
Kay McGarrell
Kana Miyamoto
Catherine Moore


Jean-Francois Gauvin
Sara Frankel
Suzanne Sroka
Samantha van Gerbig
Richard Wright

*Jonathan Sterne is Professor and James McGill Chair in Culture and Technology in the Department of Art History and Communication Studies at McGill University, as well as the co-director of the online magazine Bad Subjects: Political Education for Everyday Life. The Audible Past was awarded the Book of the Year Award in the Critical and Cultural Studies Division in 2004, and Dr. Sterne has received awards, fellowships, and honors for excellence in both scholarship and teaching. His new projects consider instruments and instrumentalities; mail by cruise missile; and the intersections of disability, technology, and perception.



May 2016 through March 2017
The Foyer Gallery, Science Center 371