In her book The Future of Nostalgia, Svetlana Boym urges historians to accept nostalgia as a serious and integral part of the human experience. She warns, however, that we cannot allow nostalgia to be purely sentimental. Sentimental nostalgia "turns affection and suffering into ready-made postures that inevitably produce reactions on the part of the reader."1 Sensitivity, however, "allows for both ethical tolerance and aesthetic bliss" that fosters a sense of connection to other people.2. Sentimentality, Boym argues, is historically the place of evil. She shows that even horrible dictators could be genuinely sentimental: they weeped in the face of art and they loved their families.3 Those same men also exploited national sentimentality to commit atrocities on a mass scale. Fascism, for instance, thrived after the Great War because it played on the emotions of a sentimental past. By sonifying stories outside of traditional narratives, we can create nuanced soundscapes that both recognize and contest nostalgia for an era.
In 2012, the geographer Michael Gallagher produced a walking tour of the ruins of St Peter’s College at Kilmahew in Scotland. He describes the project as "an experimental environmental audio work about a ruinous landscape, designed to be listened to on portable MP3 players whilst walking in that landscape."4 Users can download the audio and site maps from their website and visit the ruins to begin exploring. Gallagher noted that the walking tour had a considerable affect on its users.
There is no reason why audio geographies should make places safe and comprehensible for easy consumption. The Kilmahew drift reflected the site’s contested history and uncertain future rather than smoothing over its problems. Nevertheless, I was taken aback by the affective intensity experienced by some listeners. It is therefore worth considering the ethical implications of inviting members of the public to engage with such works. Auditioned on headphones in situ, environmental audio is immersive and constantly unfolding, without the safe distance and reassuring stability of written texts.5
By its nature, I do not believe my project can currently function as intimately with physical sites as Gallagher's audio drift. But I use sound similarly to both evoke memory and contest sentimental nostalgia. By including a painstaking number of strikes in my website, I brushed against the industrial narrative popular in Pembroke that champions business leaders like my ancestor E.A. Dunlop and the height of economic prosperity. In his recent book on Paul Martin Senior, Greg Donaghy shows that Martin - who lost against Dunlop in the 1928 North Renfrew by-election - criticized Dunlop and other industrial leaders in Pembroke for their low wages and monopolization of industry.6 By sonifying a history of striking, I hope to create discussion about Pembroke's uneasy industrial past, and foster sensitivity towards nostalgia for a past time of economic prosperity. Because Pembroke's industrial history is more complex than an epochal shift from economic boom to capital flight overseas.
Steven High's study of deindustrialization helps to understand the impact of nostalgia in post-industrial towns. High states that deindustrialization is the process by which towns and cities are stripped of their industry.7 It has typically been used to describe post-1945 processes of economic change, notably in Canada.8 High extends this traditional definition by arguing deindustrialization "is not simply an economic process, but a cultural one as well."9 Deindustrialization is an important cultural process because of the impact it has had on nostalgia as a loss of better times. But this sentimental nostalgia contains its own issues. High explores how in one North Carolina town, "working-class nostalgia for the textile mill served to silence the history of racism and workplace segregation."10 Pembroke's industrial history has been similarly sanitized of workers striking for living wages, working in harsh, unsafe conditions, and losing their jobs to economic bust. It is difficult for a town with decaying infrastructure and abandoned buildings whose identity and working life was defined by industry for over a century to latch onto its past. But untempered nostalgia - for a time, a place, or a sound one might have never experienced but nonetheless because part of their historical imagination - is dangerous. If Pembroke residents can understand that their industrial past was also wrought with struggle - that it was not as progressive as they might now reflect - maybe they can come to terms with the economic status of contemporary Pembroke. As such, perhaps Pembroke's youth can learn a greater appreciation for the daily lived experience of a town that they may now consider mundane. I hope my project can show that while Pembroke was overwhelmingly a logging and industrial town for decades, this past (perhaps the lack of it in the present) is integral to understanding contemporary Pembroke. It does not, however, define the town.
For Proust, sound was a parasite because of the way "noises are operators of irreversible time, the same lost time Proust laments, the time of nostalgia, entropy, and death."11 When I began recording machinery for this project, the sounds of the Ottawa City Woodshop were relaxing, reassuring noises of accomplishment. Yet how can I write a history sensitive to the diverse experiences of the past when I recorded sounds with feelings of achievement?
Sound studies should be historical, focusing on the historicity of sound and the way we listen. My project does this by focusing on the sensations produced by sound. But I have only accounted for the history of a specific community. To a white worker, industrial sounds could sound potentially positive, associated with prosperity and work. To different people, the sound of picketers could be tragic since jobs are jeopardized, positive since people desire economic change, or negative since workers are stopping production. To an Indigenous person of Pembroke maybe the industrial soundscape has a different story. Indigenous people have largely been erased from Pembroke's history. Perhaps industrial sounds would carry a colonial connotation. Or perhaps an Indigenous Soundscape would try to recover the colonial impact of industry on the landscape. Zoe Todd commented that
Soundscapes are powerful tools through which to assert Indigenous identity, stories and self-determination in urban spaces across Canada... these interventions disrupt the cacophony of cars, industrial machinery and commercial radio that flood our streets. Sound is one mode through which we can reclaim and make ‘citizen spaces’ that truly reflect the depth and nuance of our histories, politics, culture and voice as urban peoples. 12
An Indigenous soundscape would thus require a different set of tools and specific training on my part. I would have to consider an entirely different strategy of design and ethics in open access.
Silences can tell us a lot about sound. I quickly discovered in my interviews that Pembroke's industrial soundscape did not have affective power I originally expected. Nana was unable to recall anything specific about industrial sounds growing up at the height of Pembroke's economic prosperity. But she remembered with intimate detail the siren that sounded each night throughout the war. My project has not failed because my interviewees were not concerned with industrial sounds throughout their lives. By providing my interviewees a platform to discuss their range of memories, I participated in a dialogue that impacted the historical imagination of my interlocutors. By sharing authority, I allowed the dialogue to be more than a discussion of sensory experiences while collecting equally important memories of about the impact of sensations. These interviews were just one small facet of the much longer process I hope this website will be.
1 Svetlana Boym, The Future of Nostalgia (New York: Basic Books, 2001), 338.
4 Michael Gallagher, "Sounding Ruins: Reflections on the Production of an 'audio Drift,'" Cultural Geographies, (July 21, 2014): 2.
5 Ibid., 14.
6 Greg Donaghy, Grit: The Life and Politics of Paul Martin Sr. (UBC Press, 2015), 19-20.
7 Steven High, "'The Wounds of Class': A Historiographical Reflection on the Study of Deindustrialization, 1973–2013," History Compass 11, no. 11 (November 11, 2013): 994.
8 Ibid., 995-996.
9 Steven High, Corporate Wasteland: The Landscape of Memory and Deindustrialization (Toronto: Between the Lines, 2007), 1.
10 High, "'The Wounds of Class'," 999.
11 Cosana Eram, “In Search of Lost Soundscapes,” ARCADE, http://arcade.stanford.edu/blogs/search-lost-soundscapes.
12 Zoe Todd, "Cities for People: Creating citizen spaces through Indigenous soundscapes," Spacing, October 1, 2015, http://spacing.ca/national/2014/10/01/creating-citizen-spaces-indigenous-soundscapes/.