Eleanor Hedger

‘Acoustic Territorialisation and Sonic Conflict in the Early Modern English Prison’


In contrast to the somewhat secure institutions of confinement that we are accustomed to today, early modern prisons were privately managed establishments prone to inefficiency, laxity, and corruption. Prisoners often took advantage of poor management, transforming the prison space into one that reflected their own social or religious identity. A number of scholars have shown that early modern prisons were sites of culture, in which inmates engaged in literary production, cross-confessional debate, and communal worship in order to maintain their identities and cultivate communities. This paper will contribute to this body of scholarship through an examination of the soundscape of the early modern prison. I will explore the ways in which individuals used sound to transform, improve, and maintain their identity during such experiences. I will address the ways in which religious prisoners used musical performances to sacralise and territorialise the prison space, and how such performances could provoke hostile reactions from opposing confessional groups, thus exacerbating religious conflict amongst prisoners.

Furthermore, I will examine the tensions between sacred and secular soundscapes: the majority of early modern prisons were overcrowded, noisy spaces, and the sounds of worship were frequently in competition with the sounds of drunken singing, dancing, fighting, and shouting. Ultimately, I will show that consideration of the sounds of imprisonment offers a fruitful conduit for exploring themes such as space, place, and identity, as well as the intimate and complex relationship between sound and conflict.


Eleanor Hedger is a third-year PhD candidate at the University of Birmingham, funded by the Midlands4Cities AHRC Doctoral Training Partnership. Her thesis explores the relationship between sound, conflict, and punishment during the political and religious turbulence of the ‘long’ English Reformation. She examines how individuals experienced sounds of disorder, and what they can reveal about the complex social, political, and religious tensions that surfaced during this unsettled period of history. Ellie is also an assistant editor for the Midlands Historical Review and a member of the EMREM (Early Medieval-Medieval-Renaissance-Early Modern) committee at the University of Birmingham.


The International John Bunyan Society

A society dedicated to the study of the life and times of John Bunyan (1628-1688)