Being able to write down sound, from a chirping of a bird to the correct pronunciation of a word, may seem like an odd concept, but that idea is exactly what the exhibit “Mixed Media: The Interplay of Sound and Text” aims to showcase.
The exhibit, which opened Thursday night at the Hirshland Exhibition Gallery in the Carl A. Kroch Rare Books Library, features “how representations of text and sound have shaped our perceptions of the material world, and trac[es] the technologies used to replicate and transmit them,” according to the exhibition’s website.
Julia Gardner, the exhibit’s curator, said she was inspired by the idea of a history of science but wanted to do something different from tracing Renaissance science, for example.
“I was thinking about recording equipment for sound that’s a technology. But then, books and printing also came about because of certain technological developments too,” Gardner said.
After doing some research, Gardner noted how she “saw a lot of parallels between [sound and text] and how they often in various points in time influence each other.”
One example the exhibit examines is how subjects like ornithology have have changed over time.
“The ornithology materials really encapsulate people trying to describe sounds of nature and eventually being able to record it,” Gardner said. “You start by seeing the production of field guides where they just describe the birds, but then all the sudden you can hear the birds too. And now you can just have an app that you download and take out with you.”
Mikaela Hamilton ’19, who studies archeology and classics and works as a special collections processing assistant for the library, stated that what she enjoyed about the exhibit was how she could see works that relate to her major and other interests.
“As a classics major, I’m interested in how Latin is the primary language of a lot of scientific texts, so it’s interesting to see books entirely in Latin,” she said.
Hamilton also noted that the exhibit can appeal to people from a wide variety of disciplines.
“People who are interested in the history of science, engineering, how Latin has been used after Rome, music, the origin of the ability to play back music, it’s all here,” she said.
Visitors may also find some more familiar objects on display, such as an Amazon Kindle and one of the early models of an iPod Nano.
According to Eisha Neely, an exhibitions coordinator for the Cornell Library, the wide range of time that exhibit spans can serve as a reminder of how text and sound will continue to change.
“In 300 years people will be looking at the Kindle the same way we’re looking at the older texts now,” she said.