University of Sussex
Guida, Michael.pdf (59.9 MB)

Birds, bombs, silence. Listening to nature during wartime and its aftermath in Britain, 1914-1945

Download (59.9 MB)
posted on 2023-06-09, 12:53 authored by Michael Guida
This cultural history explores how the sounds, rhythms and quietude of the natural world were listened to, interpreted and used amid the pressures of modernising Britain between 1914 and 1945. By engaging with the sounds of nature as objects of study, the meanings of modern noise have been considered in relation to the much older sounds and listening practices rooted in English pastoral traditions. But this is also a broader exploration of human perceptions of and responses to mechanised modern life. The thesis concentrates on four listening scenarios during the period that illuminate the perspectives of soldiers, civilians, broadcasting and sound recording authorities, as well as natural historians, especially ornithologists. First, the Western Front trench experience, in which the fantasies and realities of birdsong are set alongside the cultivation of battle ‘sonic mindedness’. Second, the debates about the return of shell-shocked officers and rank-and-file soldiers to the quietude of the pastoral as a recuperative environment. Third, the ideas associated with nature’s sounds, stillness and silence – earthly and cosmic – that were part of the philosophy of early BBC broadcasting. And lastly, the place of recorded and broadcast British birdsong on the home front during the Second World War. This investigation has drawn upon diverse primary sources that include soldiers’ writings, the archives of shell shock hospitals, natural history texts, together with broadcasting accounts in wireless magazines, the publications of BBC personnel and the BBC’s Written Archive. The core question addressed is this: in what ways have the sounds of nature been part of the British social and cultural consciousness in times of chaos and threat from war and its shadow? The thesis argues that mechanised modernity has been endured and managed in part by drawing upon the security and harmony found in the sounds and rhythms of nature.


File Version

  • Published version



Department affiliated with

  • Media and Film Theses

Qualification level

  • doctoral

Qualification name

  • phd


  • eng


University of Sussex

Full text available

  • Yes

Legacy Posted Date


Usage metrics

    University of Sussex (Theses)


    No categories selected