Chapter 3

The Sound Mindedness of the Great War: Viewing History through Auditory Lenses

I) Warming up the Ear

1) Auralize war. What distinct sound events do you imagine?

2) Which sounds in your life alert you to danger? Which signal safety?

3) Submarines navigate through sound. Look online for definitions of infra- and ultrasound technology and find out about "sonar" and "echolocation." How do bats and whales "see"?

4) Do a Web search on the First World War to get an idea of the geographic space involved. Where did submarines roam? What distances did planes cover? On what fronts did the German infantry fight?

5) Gather images of vehicles and machinery used during World War I. What do you imagine they might have sounded like?

II) Working with the Text

1) Describe the soundscapes of all three "theaters of war" by juxtaposing sounds of safety and sounds of danger.

2) How did new technology change war? Describe how the role of both sight and sound changed as a result.

3) What is "sonic mindedness" as described in Jean's chapter?

4) How did the sonic mindedness of the First World War influence life in the Weimar Republic and beyond?

5) Discuss how the sensory split of sound and image translated into an emotional split alienating the soldier's sight from the other senses. What are the effects of this alienation on memory?

III) Further Food for Thought

1) What can this study, which views the First World War through auditory lenses, add to history books?

2) Watch the 2005 film Joyeux Noël (Merry Christmas), the story of the 1914 Christmas truce in which French, Scottish, and German soldiers took a break from fighting to celebrate Christmas together. The truce was triggered by the Scots' bagpipe performance of Christmas songs. Describe the various soundscapes (in the trenches, in Berlin, during the truce, etc.) throughout the film and elaborate on the differences.

3) Research which parts of the brain are activated by memory. Which parts are activated by hearing? By seeing? Is there any overlap?

4) Read two excerpts from the novel All Quiet on the Western Front (1929) by Erich Maria Remarque: a battle scene and a scene without combat. Which senses are mentioned? Which sounds does the narrator comment on? Make a list of sounds that signal danger and sounds that signal safety.

5) Using journals, letters, or other primary documents, research what the home front sounded like during war. What sounds (e.g., sirens, airplanes overhead) were new?

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