Presentation: Sound, Space and Soceity: Urban Acoustics After Pompeii

I will be presenting a paper at the European Association for Urban History, Reinterpreting Cities, 13th International Conference on Urban Hisotry at the end of the month and as I was asked to upload a summary of my paper on the EAUH site, I have also posted it below. I have been busy finishing my PhD, which is now a full draft being edited for submission. In many ways, this presentation is a summary of some of the conclusions, although being a 20 min pres it does not cover everything. Anyways, here is the summary and key points I’ll be talking around Thursday morning, 25 August, in Helsinki:

[Opening Quotes] The production of space, according to Lefebvre, is just as much about the physical buildings and imaginary worlds as it is about the sensory activities and bodily functions.[1] For Lefebvre, the senses, especially sound, offer a theoretical tool by which to analyse the daily rhythms of the city.[2] While the production of space has come to the forefront of Roman urban studies, especially in Pompeian studies, the role of sensory activities remains minimally explored.[3] In this paper, the perception of sound serves to elucidate the urban space of Ostia Antica. Drawing on the theoretical work of urban geography, introduced by Pompeian scholars, this paper will argue that production of space in Roman cities was fostered by the acoustic inclinations of Romans. In this way, the paper takes ‘after Pompeii’ in two simultaneous directions. On the one hand, it seeks to build on the approaches tested in Pompeii; on the other hand, it applies a case study from a city that displays the architectural developments that immediately preceded Pompeii, namely the second century CE. Sound provides a critical tool to analyse the experience and interaction within urban space, as well as being an object of study within literary sources on Roman urbanism. The result is a better understanding of the changing perceptions and conceptions of urban space, beyond simply reconfigured urban space, either through construction or deconstruction.

[Sound & sources graph] The literary sources display a particular anxiety towards noise, especially the sounds of movement or the movement of sound. It is worth defining sound and noise, as these terms reflect a perceptual difference that is socially and culturally specific. Sound is any auditory stimulus that is interpreted by the human auditory system (ears, body, brain, etc.), while noise is unwanted sound, being an auditory judgement. In short, one person’s sound is another’s noise. The distinction is therefore a judgement, drawing on status, gender, age distinctions in relation to things experienced outside the perceiver.

[Juv. Quote] The social anxiety towards noise is manifest in two forms. First, noise complaints about the sounds of the city, in this case Rome specifically. Juvenal offers a pertinent example in Satire 3, were Umbricius complains that the sick die from lack of sleep due to the noise. The caput mundi, Rome, is filled with noise, making it the caput morbi, ‘head of the disease’.[4] For Juvenal, as well as Martial and Seneca, satire served as a social critique of the architectural changes to the experience of streets following the fire in Rome of 64 CE. [Street terms & sound refs] This is an important point in terms of ‘after Pompeii’. The building regulations (street widening, porticos and height restrictions) are evident throughout Ostia, but only minimally present in Pompeii.[5] The brief period between the destruction of Pompeii and the rebuilding and extension of Ostia was a period of intense construction, which also changed the perception of the urban space.

Noise complaints are connected to certain spaces, as well as certain times. The forum, via and vicus are most referenced pubic space in terms of sound, with semita and clivus all being over 10%. Most sound roots are connected with movement, which is the base of auditory anxieties. For example, strepitus carries the connotation of busy or stressful activity, while fremitus has connotations of animals buzzing or humming, such as bees.[6] In contrast, silence, sileo, is connected with non-movement, or stillness, which emphasises the combination of sound and movement. Through both etymology and associations, sound roots are connected with movement; to move is to make sound. The fluidity of spatial practices underlines the role of sound in defining space.

[Rumour terms] Sound anxiety also appear as anxiety over the movement of sound, in this case rumours, gossip and the like. Fama, either rumour or fame, is constantly on the move, restless and unstable.[7] The spatial boundaries of fama, therefore, constantly shift, or more precisely never stop long enough to be spatially fixed.[8] Speed is part of the moral topography of movement, as O’Sullivan has shown.[9] Running is characteristic of slaves and effeminate action, an association also connected to movement of fama.[10] In this case, rumours are the target of social control due to association with non-elite forms of urbanism, specifically neighbourhood groups, vici, and small gatherings in the forum, circuli.[11] [Augustus] These informal groupings were the sites of popular resistance in the late Republic, which were later incorporated into the imperial state; through the reorganisation of the vici and the control of movement in the Forum Romanum both in the Augustan period.[12]

[1] H. Lefebvre, Critique of Everyday Life, Verso, 2014, p. 484.

[2] H. Lefebvre, The Production of Space, Balckwell, 1991, p. 405; cf. Lefebvre, Rythmanalysis: Space, Society and the Everyday, Bloomsburry, 2013.

[3] E. Betts, ‘Towards a Multisensory Experience of Movement in the City of Rome’, in Laurence and Newsome (eds.), Rome, Ostia, Pompeii: Movement and Society, OUP, 2011, pp. 118-32; A. Haug and P. Kruez (eds.), Stadterfahrung als Sinneserfahrung in der römischen Kaiserzeit, Brepolis, 2016.

[4] Juv. Sat. 3.234-6; J. Hartnett, ‘Sound as a Roman Urban Social Phenomenon’, in Haug and Kruez, n. 3, p. 166.

[5] See S. Ellis, ‘Pes Dexter: Superstition and the State in the Shaping of Shopfronts and Street Activity in the Roman World’, in Laurence and Newsome (eds.), n. 3, p. 173.

[6] Strepitus, Hor. Carm. 3.29.12; Epist. 2.2.79-80; fremitus, Sen. Ep. 94.72; Vir. Geo. 4.216.

[7] P. Hardie, Rumour and Renown: Representations of fama in western literature, CUP, 2012, pp. 3-11; 248.

[8] R. Laurence, ‘Towards a History of Mobility in Ancient Rome (300 BCE to 100 CE)’, in I. Östenberg, S. Malmberg, J. Bjørnebye (eds.), The Moving City: Processions, passages and promenades in ancient Rome, Bloomsbury, 2015, p. 181.

[9] T. O’Sullivan, Walking in Roman Culture, OUP, 2011.

[10] Corbel 2004, pp. 107-139; O’Sullivan, n. 8, pp. 11-33; Hardie, n. 6, pp. 357-360; 387-391.

[11] Vici, R. Laurence, ‘Rumour and Communication in Roman Politics’, Greece and Rome 41 (1994), pp. 62-74; circuli, P. O’Neill, ‘Going Round in Circles: Popular Speech in Ancient Rome’, Classical Antiquity 22 (2003), pp. 135-76.

[12] Reorganisation of vici, A. Wallace-Hadrill, Rome’s Cultural Revolution, CUP, pp. 276-90; Forum Romanum, D. Newsome, ‘Movement and For a in Rome (the late Republic to first century CE)’, in Laurence and Newsome (eds.), n. 3, pp. 304-5.

Religious Movement and Sensory Experience, 12 June 2015

The conference I am co-organising is coming up this Friday!

I am pretty excited to hear what our presenters have to share, as well as further network with the sensory studies in Antiquity folks. There is still some space left and it looks like it will be great day of discussion/research sharing among the growing number of sensory studies people in Classics/Ancient History/Archaeology/Digital Humanities. Details can be found here.