Thesis ID: CBB274749620

Why the Whales Sing: Music, American Science, and the Genesis of the Cetacean Voice (2023)


When we call something music, or say that something speaks, we are not so much talking about the “thing,” or the object or practice that is making music or speaking, but are more so talking about our relationship to what is being listened to. My dissertation considers this “listening-to” through the context of contemporary North American encounters with cetacean voices as both musical and meaning-bearing. In tracing the genealogy of the speaking and singing voices of cetaceans as perceived in North American culture, I aim to explore the intricate entanglements that occur through science and art and the apprehension of more-than-human vocalities. Against the backdrop of the emergence of cetacean science and the proliferation of cetacean sounds and songs in mainstream American media, newly-heard cetacean voices permitted their bearers agency, political sway, and identity; they also implied the ability to communicate, of a voice-bearer not only capable of being listened to, but of listening. At the core of my argument lies the proposition that the idea of a cetacean voice, one that is construed as a form of communication or invitation to humans, is intrinsically linked to the human desire for a sense of affinity with these entities in a swiftly evolving ecological, political, and cultural landscape.

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Authors & Contributors
Pesic, Peter
Antonello, Alessandro
Barthelemess, Klaus
Campen, Crétien van
Dillon, Emma
Erlmann, Veit
Archives of Natural History
American Historical Review
Annals of Science: The History of Science and Technology
Bulletin of Science, Technology & Society
Configurations: A Journal of Literature, Science, and Technology
Environment and History
Oxford University Press
University of California, Berkeley
Columbia University
MIT Press
Palgrave Macmillan
Senses and sensation; perception
Marine biology
Auditory perception
Science and music
Helmholtz, Hermann Ludwig Ferdinand von
Einstein, Albert
Mach, Ernst
Wilkes, Charles
Mackintosh, Neil Alison
Time Periods
19th century
20th century, early
18th century
20th century
13th century
14th century
Paris (France)
United States Exploring Expedition (1838-1842)

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