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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.
Her work has been supported by the National Science Foundation, the National Endowment for the Humanities, The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, and The Graham Foundation for Advanced Studies in Fine Arts. In 2005, she was named a MacArthur Fellow.
Professor Thompson is on sabbatical for the academic year 2014-15. She is a Guggenheim Fellow and a Fellow at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton through Summer 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 United States during the period 1925-1933.
The Roaring 'Twenties, an interactive, multimedia website on Noise in New York City circa 1929 in collaboration with Scott Mahoy.
* 2015 Citation for Best Historical Materials, American Library Association, Reference and User Services Association
* 2014 Award for Innovative Use of Archives, Archivists Round Table of Metropolitan New York
"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 and TV Features Available Online
Click on a title to link to an online archive of each show in a new window.
"The Sounds of New York Circa 1920," All Things Considered, NPR (22 Oct 2013)
“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).
Excerpt from "Sound" episode, How We Got To Now with Steven Johnson, PBS (27 Oct 2014). Apologies for the commercial that precedes the video...
Click on a course title for most recent .pdf version of syllabus.
AMS/HIS 399 will next be taught in Spring 2016.
This new course will be taught Fall 2015. A syllabus will be posted in early September.
1. The Soundscape of Modernity: Architectural Acoustics and the Culture of Listening in America, 1900-1933
2. The Architecture of Science