Document Type


Date of Degree

Fall 2013

Access Restrictions

Access restricted until 01/31/2021

Degree Name

PhD (Doctor of Philosophy)

Degree In

American Studies

First Advisor

Yablon, Nick

First Committee Member

Altman, Rick

Second Committee Member

Kinsey, Joni

Third Committee Member

McLeod, Kembrew

Fourth Committee Member

Marra, Kim


This dissertation examines the commercially released nature records that were produced by naturalists, scientists, recording engineers, teachers, musicians, and hobbyists from the 1890s through the 1970s. Though some of the general concepts about natural sound have remained remarkably consistent over time, their specific definitions and implementations are marked by moments of contestation and change. Early recorded natural sound practices were often both musical and narrative, relying on human intermediaries to set the scene and explain the sounds. Later developments in microphones and recorders allowed humans greater access to natural sounds, but they also increased the levels of detachment between those sounds and their sources, resulting in nature sounds being understood, measured, and visualized in abstract and mathematical ways. Concurrent with these technological developments was a cultural shift away from nature sounds as a way to understand large-scale environmental and scientific issues, shared experiences, and actual physical spaces, toward the use of nature sounds to facilitate a personal and psychological relationship with a generalized idea of "the natural world." These issues were not simply the province of a small group of specialists, or mere background noise to larger cultural issues. Debates about natural sounds were often debates about "nature" itself, touching on fundamental questions of race, class, gender, science, technology, and environmental politics in American culture.


communication, media, music, nature, sound, technology


x, 219 pages


Includes bibliographical references (pages 209-219).


Copyright © 2013 Craig Eley

Available for download on Sunday, January 31, 2021