The Visual World of Early Modern Acoustics, 1660–1718

Leendert van der Miesen, M.A.

This project deals with the manifold connections between seeing, hearing, and knowing in the early modern period. During this period, sound attracted broad scientific attention across Europe. Scholars, natural philosophers, and mathematicians investigated and experimented with animal sounds and musical instruments and developed theories of hearing. At the same time, visualization was a fundamental epistemological strategy that facilitated the circulation of experiments and theories to reach a wider public and scholarly community. Even in works devoted to sound, the eye —not the ear— was heralded as the central instrument of discernment. If the eye was the primary scientific sense, then how were aural phenomena like echos, vibration, and frequency visualized? How could aural forms of knowledge be brought to a wider public and scientific community? And on what visual traditions and forms of expertise did early modern authors on music and sound build? This project will investigate these questions by considering the visual world of early modern acoustics, investigating how sound was transformed into a visual object and how different actors such as experimenters, musicians, and artists worked together.

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