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Emily Thompson is a historian of technology who studies late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century America. Her research explores the cultural history of sound, music, noise, and listening, and focuses on how these phenomena and activities intersect with technologies like the phonograph, motion pictures, and architecture.
28 Oct 2013: Department of Music, Harvard University
27 Mar 2014: Department of History of Science and Technology, Johns Hopkins
28-19 Mar 2014: "Sound+" Conference, Dept. of English, Univ. Maryland
18-22 Aug 2014: "Sound Epistemologies and the Order of Sound": NYU/Max Planck Institute Summer School, Berlin
Professor Thompson hopes to be on sabbatical during the academic year 2014-2015.
B.S. Physics, Rochester Institute of Technology, 1984
PhD. History, Princeton University, 1992
Professor Thompson’s current research focuses upon the transformation of technical work during the transition from silent to sound motion pictures in the American film industry. Her book-in-progress, Sound Effects, will examine the working lives of sound engineers, editors, musicians, projectionists, and other technicians associated with the production and exhibition of films in the U.S.,1925-1933.
She has also written about the Pathé Studio fire of 1929, a deadly fire on a motion picture sound stage in Manhattan that led to criminal investigations against the Pathé studio executives that, in turn, played a role in exposing the political corruption that permeated the Tammany Hall government of City Hall and led to the resignation of New York City's Mayor Jimmy Walker in 1932.
She has recently published a website, "The Roaring 'Twenties," in collaboration with web designer Scott Mahoy as part of the USC-sponsored online journal Vectors. This site explores how the interactive multimedia capabilities of the web can be used to construct a historical representation of noise in New York City in the late 1920s.
For more on Professor Thompson's work, see: "An Interview with Emily Thompson," Nick Marx and Danny Campbell, Velvet Light Trap 62 (Fall 2008): 76-81.
"Remix Redux," Cabinet 36 (Fall 2009): 23-28. .
* 2005 Edelstein Prize of the Society for the History of Technology
* 2004 Marc-Auguste Pictet Prize of the Société de Physique et d’Histoire Naturelle de Genève
* 2003 John Hope Franklin Prize of the American Studies Association
* 2003 Lewis Mumford Prize of the Media Ecology Association
* 2002 Science Writing Prize of the Acoustical Society of America
* “Elegantly written and wonderfully engaging ... a path-breaking account of the
technology, architecture and culture of acoustics in the early 20th century.”
Leon Botstein, Los Angeles Times
* “A historical tour de force ... as accessible in its technical content as it is
provocative in its cultural interpretations.”
Daniel Kevles, New York Review of Books
* “What Emily Thompson achieves so impressively ... is an evocative reconstruction
of American audio life in the first third of the twentieth century. ...
The significance and poetry of her account steals up on you.”
David Toop, Bookforum
The Architecture of Science, co-edited with Peter Galison (The MIT Press, 1999).
“Wiring the World: Theater Installation Engineers and the Empire of Sound in the Motion Picture Industry, 1927-1930, pp. 191-209 in Veit Erlmann, ed., Hearing Cultures: Essays on Sound, Listening, and Modernity (Berg, 2004).
“Machines, Music and the Quest for Fidelity: Marketing the Edison Phonograph in America, 1877-1925,” Musical Quarterly 79 (Spring 1995): 131-171.
* Inspired Tone Test, a chamber opera by Nicholas Brooke which held its world
premiere at the Lincoln Center Festival, July 2004, New York.
* 1996 Honorable Mention for Excellence in Recorded Sound Research,
Association for Recorded Sound Collections.
Her writing has also appeared in Isis, The New York Times, American Heritage of Invention and Technology, and Mountain Man Dance Moves: The McSweeney’s Book of Lists (Vintage, 2006).
Radio Features Available Online
“Sound Reasoning” segment: On the Media, host Bob Garfield, WNYC/NPR (30 May 2008).
“A History of Early Sounds in the Movies,” produced by Ben Shapiro, All Things Considered, NPR (29 May 2007).
The Connection, hosted by Dick Gordon. WBUR, Boston (26 September 2002).
Weekend Edition with Scott Simon, interview with Alex van Oss, National Public Radio (14 September 2002).
Courses (Click on course title for most recent .pdf version of syllabus):
AMS/HIS 399 will next be taught in Spring 2014. The new syllabus, which should be very similar to the one posted here, will be posted some time in January 2014.
1. The Soundscape of Modernity: Architectural Acoustics and the Culture of Listening in America, 1900-1933
2. The Architecture of Science