"The Ear is Our Customer," Courtesy of AT&T Archives and History Center.
Project (2015-)

The History of Audiometry and the Construction of the Normal Auditory Threshold

This project took “testing” to be a key technique for understanding and managing hearing in the modern period. It specifically addressed the history of electronic audiometry and its significance for the medicalization of deafness and the definition of “noise” in the telephone system, framing electronic audiometry within the longer history of hearing measurement. Through a comparison between the audiogram and prior hearing charts, the following topics were explored: the different ways in which the sense of hearing has been defined, dissected, and visualized; the range of cultural possibilities that have existed for “normal” hearing; the means by which nineteenth-century categories such as “just noticeable differences” and “areas of sensation” were transformed by telephone engineers into transmission units and channel capacities; and the incorporation of hearing statistics into instrument calibration, architecture, and apparatus design.