Museums of sound: audio bird guides and the pleasures of knowledge

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Since the first commercial field guides appeared in the United States in the 1940s, audio guides have taught generations of listeners how to hear and recognise birds. In the pages that follow, I look at two different traditions of listening taught by these American guides. The first teaches rapid and efficient species identification; the second teaches more focused musical techniques that frame birds as autonomous, music-making beings. Drawing on the frameworks of animal studies, I situate the aural representations of birds in this essay as sites at which inequality is both performed and defined. In examining the pedagogies of audio field guides, I am also inviting questions about how traditions of listening shape our habits of perceiving others: how we hear birds, how we hear nonhuman animals, and how we hear those who are different more broadly.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)52-68
Number of pages17
JournalSound Studies
Issue number1
StatePublished - 2016
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Arts and Humanities(all)
  • Cultural Studies
  • Communication


  • audio guide
  • bird song
  • Birdsong
  • identification
  • person
  • personhood


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