Moravian Soundscapes

Moravian Soundscapes

A Sonic History of the Moravian Missions in Early Pennsylvania
Sarah Justina Eyerly
Distribution: Global
Publication date: 06/02/2020
Format: Paperback 39 b&w illus., 1 map, 15 tables
ISBN: 978-0-253-04769-4
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In Moravian Soundscapes, Sarah Eyerly contends that the study of sound is integral to understanding the interactions between German Moravian missionaries and Native communities in early Pennsylvania. In the mid-18th century, when the frontier between settler and Native communities was a shifting spatial and cultural borderland, sound mattered. People listened carefully to each other and the world around them. In Moravian communities, cultures of hearing and listening encompassed and also superseded musical traditions such as song and hymnody. Complex biophonic, geophonic, and anthrophonic acoustic environments—or soundscapes—characterized daily life in Moravian settlements such as Bethlehem, Nain, Gnadenhütten, and Friedenshütten. Through detailed analyses and historically informed recreations of Moravian communal, environmental, and religious soundscapes and their attendant hymn traditions, Moravian Soundscapes explores how sounds—musical and nonmusical, human and nonhuman—shaped the Moravians' religious culture. Combined with access to an interactive website that immerses the reader in mid-18th century Pennsylvania, and framed with an autobiographical narrative, Moravian Soundscapes recovers the roles of sound and music in Moravian communities and provides a road map for similar studies of other places and religious traditions in the future.

Author Bio

Sarah Eyerly is Associate Professor of Musicology and Director of the Early Music Program at the Florida State University.


"Moravian Soundscapes is an important contribution to our understanding of the musical dimension of European religious subcultures in colonial-era North America. . . . Eyerly positions Moravian song and sound at the center of this history and shows how its creators used it to impose order on their social and natural worlds."

 (Olivia Bloechl, author of Native American Song at the Frontiers of Early Modern Music)

"Moravian Soundscapes brings a compelling and necessary new approach to the study of music, sound, space, and colonial encounter in early America. Combining historical research, sound mapping, and autobiographical reflection, Eyerly reveals the way in which listening and singing were integral to European and Native Moravians' understanding of their environments, experiences of faith, and construction of community. In doing so, she offers an intimate exploration of how family, place, and music intertwine."

 (Glenda Goodman, University of Pennsylvania)

"Eyerly's Moravian Soundscapes is a stunning achievement that deftly crosses disciplinary boundaries to offer a compellingly immersive journey into eighteenth century Moravian communities as experienced by German and Native peoples. Woven throughout is Eyerly's own family story, which reminds readers that all history writing gains its fuel in our own more recent pasts."

 (Rachel Wheeler, Indiana University)

""Part personal memoir, mostly deep immersion in the eighteenth-century landscapes where European and Native American ways of being briefly came together, Moravian Soundscapes is a major achievement. With its accompanying website, it comes as close as anyone ever has to re-creating a lost sensory world—and to showing why such a re-creation matters in our own time.""

 (Daniel K. Richter, McNeil Center for Early American Studies, University of Pennsylvania)

"Beautifully written and expertly researched, this remarkable volume with its companion digital components will change the way in which the eighteenth-century landscapes of North America's mid-Atlantic are navigated historically, acoustically, and experientially. Through listening to the sounds of history and ethically reconstructing those traces of past acoustic experience, Sarah Eyerly redirects the conversation about Native American and European cultural and linguistic encounter, the consequences of settler colonialism, and religious experience. A must-read for Moravian scholars and musicologists alike! "

 (Katherine Faull, Bucknell University)

"Eyerly accomplishes what few scholars thought possible—creating a 'sonic link' to early America and transporting us into the sensory and spiritual world that German-speaking Moravian missionaries and Native American Christians built and inhabited for a brief time in mid-eighteenth century Pennsylvania. Entering through the portal of her personal connections to this historical aural landscape, Eyerly's marvelous book and its compendium website transform readers into imaginative witnesses and embody a lost knowledge through digital methods, painstaking research, and a sensitive rendering of a place and time full of violence and hope. Moravian Soundscapes is an intellectual, auditory, and emotional revelation. "

 (Patrick Erben, University of West Georgia)

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Table of Contents


About the Companion Website

Note on Naming, Terminology, and Archival Sources

The Pennsylvania Wilds

Introduction: Sounding New Histories of the Moravian Missions


1. Penn's Woods


2. Friends & Strangers


3. Sound & Spirit

Moravian Run

4. 1782


Glossary: A Moravian Vocabulary