Guest lecture: Articulating identity and difference in modern Europe: a vocal history

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PinniB 3109


Trivium - Tampere Centre for Classical, Medieval and Early Modern Studies

Guest lecture Dr. Josephine Hoegaerts from the Helsinki Collegium for Advanced Studies.

In J. Duquesnois’ 1841 manual for orators, vocal physiology was described as “le miroir où vient se réfléchir l'image […] surtout de nos sensations”, a mirror of the self and its inner workings. The mirror was not given, however. The embodied voice, like the vast array of ‘selves’ it would mirror, was a matter of continuous cultural and physical ‘work’. Histories of the body have largely ignored the role of voice and speech in the performance of the self and the construction of normality and difference. The voice’s inherently eerie and transitory nature makes it a challenging phenomenon to study historically (the voice only exists while it is being produced, and leaves no documentary trail without copy or transcription). But, as I will argue in this paper, the voice’s close connection to temporality and its dependence on performance for its sheer existence also makes it the ideal case for a historical analysis of the articulation of identity as active, time-sensitive and performative. The adaptive, trained and plastic nature of the voice is more obvious than that of other aspects of the body, after all, and the voice’s capacity to manipulate and be manipulated was obvious to the historical actors (‘experts’ on vocal anatomy and performance) under scrutiny in my research.

In this talk, I will analyze the ways in which elocutionists, laryngologists and musicians connected vocal practice to (socio-culturally defined) identity in their work. Throughout the nineteenth century, the voice was generally interpreted as an instrument to externalize the ‘inner self’ and communicate one’s will, affect and thoughts to others. At the same time, however, the possibility to ‘put on’ a potentially fraudulent voice was recognized as well, which complicated theories of the voice’s corporeal and ‘natural’ status, and its role in producing individuality and humanity.

I draw on a broad corpus of sources, including scientific treatises on laryngology, self-help manuals to ‘cure’ speech impediments, singing courses, essays on oratory and elocution and other documents generated by (mostly self-defined) experts of the human voice in the nineteenth century. The material was drawn from collections available to middle-class readers in Leipzig, London and Paris, and thus broadly represents the reigning normative discourse on the nature, meaning and use of the human voice in a large part of Europe in the nineteenth century.

All welcome!

Additional information

Professor Sari Kivistö, and Professor Sari Katajala-Peltomaa,