Article ID: CBB282467130

The Unmusical Ear: Georg Simon Ohm and the Mathematical Analysis of Sound (2020)


This essay presents a detailed analysis of Georg Simon Ohm’s acoustical research between 1839 and 1844. Because of its importance in Hermann von Helmholtz’s subsequent study of sound and hearing, this work is rarely considered on its own terms. A thorough assessment of Ohm’s articles, however, can greatly enrich our understanding of later developments. Based on study of Ohm’s published writings, as well as a lengthy unpublished manuscript, the essay argues that his acoustical research foreshadows an important paradigmatic shift at a time of discursive instability prior to Helmholtz’s influential contributions. Using Ohm’s own dismissal of his supposedly “unmusical ears” as a conceptual frame, the essay describes this shift as a move away from understanding sound primarily in a musical context and toward an increasingly mathematical approach to sound and hearing. As such, Ohm’s work also anticipates a more general change in the role of the senses in nineteenth-century scientific research.

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Authors & Contributors
Pantalony, David Alexander
Ullmann, Dieter
Bailhache, Patrice
Carazza, B.
Darrigol, Olivier
Fowler, David
Osiris: A Research Journal Devoted to the History of Science and Its Cultural Influences
Revue d'Histoire des Sciences
Annals of Science: The History of Science and Technology
Archive for History of Exact Sciences
Centaurus: International Magazine of the History of Mathematics, Science, and Technology
Giornale di Fisica
University of Toronto
The MIT Press
University of Chicago Press
University of Pittsburgh Press
Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft
Experiments and experimentation
Helmholtz, Hermann Ludwig Ferdinand von
Koenig, Karl Rudolph
Ohm, Georg Simon
Bernoulli, Daniel
Einstein, Albert
Fokker, Adriaan Daniël
Time Periods
19th century
18th century
20th century
20th century, early
17th century
20th century, late
United States
London (England)
Nuclear Test Ban Treaty; Partial Test Ban Treaty; Limited Test Ban Treaty (1963)

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