Universität Erfurt

Projekt von Dr. Anna Kvíčalová

Construction of Deafness in Reformation Europe: An Integrated Approach to the Epistemology of Hearing

Throughout the sixteenth century, material dimension as well as epistemic value of sensory experience was increasingly debated and investigated in different fields of action, including medicine and physiology, architecture, musical practice, and natural philosophy. Gradual shifts in the understanding of the nature and status of human perception in those fields was mirrored by a profound criticism of religious sensing in the Protestant Reformation. The exact relationship between the sixteenth-century religious upheavals and sensibilities and the heightened interest in the functioning of the senses in the period remains to be explored. This project’s long-range aim is to examine the changing epistemology of the senses, listening in particular, by investigating how knowledge of sound and hearing was both communicated and constructed on the crossroads of domains traditionally categorized as religious/scientific, or natural/supernatural. In my current research project, I pay special attention to the investigation of the parameters of the categories of deafness and hardness of hearing as they were fabricated, understood and applied in sixteenth-century Europe.
The project’s preliminary hypotheses—based on a micro-historical study of Calvinist Geneva—is that deafness and hardness of hearing were not only regarded differently after the Reformation, but also defined and constructed afresh in the reformed system of auditory communications which demanded novel standards of listening. The categories’ parameters reveal a fluidity of boundaries between different types of knowledge, where religious, social, and medical perspectives are routinely combined: hearing disability is often best understood not as a medical diagnosis, but as a culturally and socially negotiated category whose boundaries are not clear-cut. The project thus proposes to study hearing disabilities not only in the frame of the history of medicine, anatomy, and the exact sciences, but also in the history of religion, natural magic, art, or pedagogy, where the nature of historical approaches to sound, hearing, but also the human body, is best observable.  


Anna Kvíčalová is a postdoctoral fellow at the Centre for Theoretical Study in Prague. She was trained as a scholar of religion at the University of Amsterdam (MA) and the Freie Universität in Berlin (PhD). Between 2013-17 she worked as a research fellow at the Max Planck Institute for the History of Science in Berlin (research groups The Making of Acoustics in 16th to 19th Century Europe and Epistemes of Modern Acoustics). She is a member of the Berlin center on the history of epistemology and material culture (Knowledge in Motion), and in her work she deals with an interdisciplinary investigation of the history of the senses, media, science, and religion in early modern Europe. Her current project examines the construction of the categories of deafness and hardness of hearing, and changing definitions of “good” sound and hearing in 16th- and 17th- century Europe.



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