‘Profane language, horrid oaths and imprecations’: order and the colonial soundscape in the American mid-Atlantic, 1650–1750
One of the most important developments in the historical discipline in recent years has been the growth of histories of the senses, and studies of sound and soundscapes have made important contributions to this growing field. The relationship between a perennial early modern concern for social order and ‘noise’ has received relatively little attention, however. This article examines the formation of novel soundscapes between the 1650s and 1740s in the North American middle colonies, the most ethnically and culturally diverse region of the English Atlantic world. Placing special emphasis on the region’s two largest cities, New York and Philadelphia, it argues that the mid-Atlantic’s distinctive soundscapes posed significant problems of order for urban and provincial authorities during a period of elite Anglicization. Sound was more than a way to encourage new norms of politeness; it was a source of contestation between different cultural systems. Speech, music and other sounds were also instrumental in processes of class, ethnic and racial formation.