From Publishers Weekly
In contrast to the modern world, which is ruled by such visual inputs as newspapers, television and traffic signs, early America was a sound-oriented society, according to this engaging and original academic study. Colonists in the 17th century, for example, believed that thunder could kill. They used church bells, trumpets and drums to regulate their communities and assert social authority. And where today the written text is considered authoritative, early Americans paid more attention to the extra-linguistic components of speech such as accent and tone of voice; the "murmuring" of mobs, the "grumbling" of disgruntled servants and the "ranting" of religious dissenters was as important a gauge of meaning as the words themselves. Writing in a scholarly but accessible style, cultural historian Rath ranges widely over the many facets of the colonial American soundscape, from Native American myths about natural sounds to the musical traditions of slave communities. In making his case for the great paradigm shift from sound to vision in modern society, he sometimes overloads the evidence with historiographical weight, writing, for example, that "the first generation of colonists did not simply choose to believe in powerful sounds, they had no other set of beliefs by which to live." But when he sticks to the history of how sound was used and perceived in early America-especially in a fascinating chapter on how the acoustics of churches both advanced Protestant theological doctrines and subtly delineated the class hierarchies of the congregation-he opens a revealing window on the past. Photos.
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[T]his tour de force of original scholarship is suitable for all library collections. Indeed, its arguments merit recurrent reading." -- Library Journal, December 2003