The Sound of War. Interdisciplinary and Interepochal Symposium of the Arbeitskreis Militärgeschichte e.V. - Martin Clauss (TU Chemnitz), Gundula Gahlen (LMU Munich), Oliver Janz (FU Berlin)

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Call for Papers
September 27, 2023 to September 29, 2023
Subject Fields: 
Cultural History / Studies, History of Science, Medicine, and Technology, Military History, Peace History / Studies, Music and Music History

War is an extreme aural experience; war sounds have always been among the loudest sounds in human history. For the entirety of sounds generated and influenced by wars, the ethnomusicologist Martin Daughtry (Daughtry, Listening to War 2015) has coined the term ‘the belliphonic’. The Arbeitskreis Militärgeschichte e.V. is thus organizing an interdisciplinary and interepochal conference around the topic of the belliphonic. What meanings does the belliphonic have concerning the experiencing, memory, and representation of wars? Violent and warlike acts can only be fully grasped taking into consideration their acoustic impact. The conference therefore aims at gaining insights from the fields of military and cultural history, but also sensory history, the history of emotions and violence. Sounds as a focal point serve as a thematic frame to gather different aspects of war. Through an interepochal as well as a transcultural approach, we would like to elaborate how and why the soundscapes of wars have changed across history and how they have been perceived, told, interpreted, and remembered.

The soundscape ‘war’ does not only include sounds of weapons, but also a range of other intentionally and accidentally generated sounds, such as the movement of people, animals, and means of transport; battle cries, signals and music, as well as orations, conversations and prayers (particularly before battles). Likewise, silence can gain new meanings during wars as a physically discernable phenomenon (Smith, Smell of Battle 2014); for example, when the silence before a fight and the silent enemy are perceived as particularly terrifying. The belliphonic has furthermore influenced the experiencing of war of involved societies and noncombatants, which has led to certain sounds leaving their marks in collective memories. Part of researching the belliphonic is then also the study of the relationship between the soundscape war and other soundscapes, such as peace, city, or church. These can influence, overlap, or even supplant each other.

Especially the following topics and issues will be discussed during the conference based on contributions from the fields of Antiquity, the Middle Ages, and Modernity:

(1) The Acoustic Dimensions of Military Technology, Training, and Warfare

What impact did the developments of military technology have on the sounds produced during fights? And what influence did these sounds have on the selection and training of people and animals involved in combat? What sound was used for communication during battles and when? Which belliphonic practices occurred spontaneously, which were regulated? What emotional regimes have prevailed for the acoustic processing of pain, anger, or grief? Concerning sonic warfare (Goodman, Sonic Warfare 2010): How have sounds been used as weapons and how have they become violence?

(2) Sensory History of the Belliphonic

Another important topic to discuss are the changing hearing practices during wars. Wars have shaped the listening habits of military and civilians that are related to the respective war sounds. Selective hearing enabled some, on the one hand, to get tactical information from sounds, and, on the other hand, to limit the incriminating effects of said sounds. Furthermore, hearing in general, but also and especially during war, is a multisensual process: How can the connection between hearing and the other senses be explained?

(3) Music and War

The conference also aims at a focus on the different functions of music during wars. Thus, music can serve to motivate one’s own and discourage the enemy’s troops. It can also be a means to cope with the horrors of war. How has music been used as a tool of psychological warfare? How have soldiers, fighters, and civilians used music to cope with the experiencing of wars?

(4) Memory and Narrating of the Belliphonic

Which role has the belliphonic played in the fabrication of interpretation and memory of wars? How has the belliphonic been told in word and picture? Are there differences between different types of sources; for example, are literary, historiographic, and normative sources narrating the sound of wars in different ways? How far were values such as civilized behavior and military honor connected to the sounds made by one’s own and the opposing armies?

Historical studies about sounds of war are not only facing challenges in terms of content, but also concerning methodology. Sensory history and the sound studies have already developed important concepts and given impulses for the interdisciplinary research on sounds and the acoustic in general. Their potential is now to be used to get a diachronic perspective of military history during this conference. It also must be asked to what extend experimental reconstructions, based on archeological research, can be helpful for the understanding of acoustic scenarios of the past.

We therefore welcome papers from the disciplines of history and cultural studies, musicology as well as media studies. In addition to empirical case studies, we also welcome more theoretically oriented contributions that demonstrate the potentials of different methodological-theoretical approaches and concepts or of a temporally overlapping and comparative access to the thematic field. In the sense of a transcultural comparison, the conference is not limited to the European area. The conference’s languages are German and English; the presentations should not exceed a length of 20-30 minutes. Travel and accommodation costs for speakers will be covered. Following the conference, it is planned to publish the contributions.


Please send an abstract of your contribution of max. one page including bibliographical information (max. 2 pages) to Katja Seyffert-Weiß, TU Chemnitz ( by October 15.

Please address any inquiries regarding content to Prof. Dr. Martin Clauss (

Contact Info: 

Prof. Martin Clauss, Technische Universität Chemnitz