Acoustic Instruments

I’ve pretty much been chained to my desk these days, struggling to write the most difficult chapter of my dissertation, which broadly focuses on the historiography of medical specialties and professionalization. The chapter also provides an analysis of how diagnostic instruments (and other medical technologies) served as a nexus for the crystallization of specialist medical identities in the case of aural surgery in early 19C London.

I’ll share some tidbits as I go along, but for the meantime, I ran across a quote by John Harrison Curtis, who, despite having earned a reputation for his acoustic instruments–particularly his hearing trumpet–became severely critical of the use of acoustic instruments as a replacement for surgical and medical treatments for ear diseases. That is, Curtis insisted the deaf population should not turn to instruments until all other medical means have been exhausted:

Acoustic instruments, like surgical operations, should always e the last things resorted to. Hundreds have permanently lost their hearing through using instruments, who might, by proper treatment adopted early, and adhered to, have been restored to the full possession of that important and valuable function.

…The constant use of any fixed acoustic instrument exhausted the energy of the auditory nerve, and will, sooner or later, lead to irremediable deafness, which no instrument can assist.

Advice to the Deaf (1841)

Latest Comments

  1. David Pantalony (@SciTechCurator) says:

    Loaded quote. Have you made a parallel with critiques of the stethoscope yet? Or am i off on that


    • Jai Virdi says:

      I have a section of another chapter devoted to this discussion, and for a paper for the Bulletin of the History of Medicine–the paper is currently under revision. There, I draw on Jonathan Sterne’s work on sound culture (among others) in order to reveal some of the complex conceptual issues in the forming of aurists’ professional identity through the use of instrumentation.


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