Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

Lending Their Ears: Hearing, Deafness, and Aural Citizenship in World War II America
by Healey, Katherrine Heather Rae, Ph.D., Yale University, 2019, 344; 13809875
Abstract (Summary)

This dissertation examines American soundscapes of the Second World War, from noisy battlefields and war-production factories to military hospitals and early audiology clinics, and the soundwaves in between. The war compelled what I call aural citizenship: the status of belonging to and aligning with a community unified by shared soundscapes. Wartime aural culture membership extended to—and required of—Americans who shared a language, airwaves, and soundscapes of the nation at war. American ears were marshalled for service and sacrifice on behalf of the nation and were calibrated to listen critically and strategically. Citizens performed nationhood by careful listening, whether to radio announcements to keep updated on war news, to music piped into war-production factories to bolster their efficiency, or to warnings of oncoming dangers in order to survive. Aural citizenship also involved the vigilant policing of what entered one's own ears and the ears of the those around them, from minimizing exposure and contribution to harmful noises to preventing the spread of dangerous gossip and national secrets.

The first chapter explores sonic deception on the battlefield by examining the 23rd Special Troops, known as the Ghost Army of World War II, that broadcasted convincing recordings of troop activities to confuse Germans of U.S. movements. This effective ploy demonstrated that in dangerous situations, speech was not necessarily the most crucial of sounds. Environmental cues and sound localization were key to the United States' success.

This section also contrasts the tactical advantage of sonic deception on the field with the threats of other types of sonic deception: malingering and psychogenic deafness. Doctors employed their own deceptive techniques to expose a potential malingerer in his ruse or to treat a soldier's non-organic hearing loss and thus to enforce aural citizenship. We also see Deaf men concealing their hearing conditions from induction officers in audacious attempts to engage in national defense.

Chapter 2 moves to the bustling war-production factories to explore the soundscapes of the frenzied home front, where excessive industrial noise was framed as a threat to the war effort. Comprehensible speech was typically incompatible with the din of production, as workers could not hear in noisy environments. Instead, Muzak—a new type of background music without disruptive lyrics—was often piped into these factories to regulate workers' tempos and increase efficiency.

Deaf factory workers offer a different audiological perspective. Undistracted by the roar of machinery, they lent their ears to the war cause in soundscapes that, unlike the battlefield, did not require perfect hearing. In doing so, they performed civic responsibility at the margins of aural citizenship.

The third chapter explores the quieter civilian wartime soundscapes of hearing aid dealer shops, the home, and public spaces. By analyzing hearing aid advertisements alongside medical journals and military records, I explore how hearing aids functioned simultaneously, if somewhat contentiously, as critical military instruments, necessary medical devices, and convenient consumer products. These varied roles of hearing aids prompted debates around who should receive devices and accessories during wartime material shortages and provoked competition surrounding control of the devices among otologists, hearing aid consultants, the military, and the users themselves.

Chapter 4 utilizes U.S. military records of temporary military hospitals to explore the soundscapes of Army and Navy aural rehabilitation centers. Servicemen deafened in battle spent busy days training in lipreading, proper use of hearing aids, speech therapy, and other auditory exercises to return to military duty and mainstream hearing culture. These sites combined the resources and knowledge of experts in diverse fields and led to the emergence of audiology. Deafened servicemen practiced and indeed typified aural citizenship through the careful calibration of their damaged ears—modulated through hearing aids—to the sounds deemed most important by the military and by wartime sonic nationhood.

The final chapter transitions to the postwar soundscapes of the soundproof booths of audiology clinics, universities, and mobile hearing vans, and classrooms. Drawing on a July 2017 interview with a World War II-deafened audiologist who himself completed military aural rehabilitation at Walter Reed as well as archives of the nation's first audiology program at Northwestern University, I trace the key debates in postwar America around audiology's disciplinary boundaries, professional legitimacy, and specializations to show that contests for authority over American ears—and over aural citizenship—endured beyond the Second World War.

Indexing (document details)
Advisor: Rogers, Naomi
School: Yale University
Department: History
School Location: United States -- Connecticut
Source: DAI-A 81/3(E), Dissertation Abstracts International
Subjects: American history, Disability studies
Keywords: Audiology, Deaf, Hearing, Soundscape, Sound studies, World war 2
Publication Number: 13809875
ISBN: 9781088315545
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