A noisy history of the world

David Hendy is presenting a BBC Radio 4 series on the history of humans' relationship with sound. Here he tells Spencer Mizen why exploring what our ancestors heard, as well as saw, is crucial to gaining a better understanding of what it was like to live in the past

"Trying to uncover the noises our ancestors made, what they heard, is key to building a picture of what their lives were really like," says David Hendy. (Universal History Archive/UIG via Getty Images)

This article was first published in the March 2013 issue of BBC History Magazine

How important is sound to understanding the human experience through history?

It’s absolutely critical. A visual history is only half a history – trying to uncover the noises our ancestors made, what they heard, is key to building a picture of what their lives were really like. How can we begin to understand how it felt to live in a tenement in New York’s Lower East Side without appreciating the noise that filled one of the most overcrowded places on Earth – the kind of unrelenting din that sent people mad through lack of sleep?

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