Urban History

Sounds of the city: the soundscape of early modern European towns

a1 School of Historical Studies, Monash University, Victoria 3800, Australia


In European towns of the seventeenth, eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, the sounds people heard were very different from those of today. Yet the difference goes much deeper: whereas today we try to escape city noise, for the inhabitants of early modern towns sound served as a crucial source of information. It formed a semiotic system, conveying news, helping people to locate themselves in time and in space, and making them part of an ‘auditory community’. Sound helped to construct identity and to structure relationships. The evolution of this information system reflects changes in social and political organization and in attitudes towards time and urban space.