Date of Award


Document Type

Campus Access Thesis



First Advisor

Edgar, Walter B


Although Civil War historians assume that people in the past experienced the world through their senses, they rarely give explicit attention to nonvisual senses such as hearing and smell. This thesis takes nonvisual senses seriously. Unlike vision, hearing cannot be turned off, making sound and the auditory world inseparable from experience. In recent years sensory historians have emphasized the importance of sound and patterns of listening in broad historical trends such as antebellum sectionalism. This thesis uses a sensory perspective to explore the relationship between sound and prison experience. Prison officials gave explicit meaning to certain sounds, but prisoners inferred their own meaning and the difference characterized the tension between captor and captive. A second chapter treats smell, sound, and implicitly sight as interconnected components of a single constructed reality of suffering in the context of mid-nineteenth-century ideas about health and cleanliness. As component parts, smell and sound intersected at the experience of suffering, reinforcing and intensifying one another. Nonetheless, the meaning of prison sounds and smells were highly unstable. Prisoners and guards disagreed on how to interpret them.