Article ID: CBB237583986

“The Wind Cries Mary”: The Effect of Soundscape on the Prairie-Madness Phenomenon (2022)


“Prairie madness” is a documented phenomenon wherein immigrants who settled the Great Plains experienced episodes of depression and violent behavior. The cause is commonly attributed to the isolation of the households and settlements. Historical accounts and literature from the late 19th and early 20th centuries also specify the loud sound of the winds on the plain as a catalyst for prairie madness. This study uses audiometric analysis of general human-hearing patterns combined with spectral data on the soundscape of the Great Plains region to investigate the possible effect of soundscapes on historical-period plains settler populations. I propose that a number of settlers may have suffered from conditions such as misophonia and acute hyperacusis that can cause increased sensitivity to environmental sounds. Both conditions can result from high-stress environments and cause behavior consistent with descriptions of prairie madness, such as depression, insomnia, and violent or irrational behavior.

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Authors & Contributors
Karen Bescherer Metheny
McIlvenna, Kathleen
Aja M. Lans
Robert Suits
Rachel Morgan
Graeme Murdock
Historical Archaeology
International Journal of Historical Archaeology
TG Technikgeschichte
Science as Culture
Journal of Historical Geography
History of Psychiatry
The Pennsylvania State University Press
Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht
University of Pennsylvania Press
Oxford University Press
Cornell University Press
Senses and sensation; perception
Historical archaeology
Mental Health
Embodiment; corporeality
Science and culture
Time Periods
19th century
20th century, early
20th century
17th century
Progressive Era (1890s-1920s)
New England (U.S.)
United States
South Carolina (U.S.)
Boston (Massachusetts, U.S.)

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