Test Subjects


Season Two erupts in our ears with a film-noir soundscape—an eerie voice utters strange and disjointed phrases and echoing footsteps lead to sirens and gunshots. What on Earth are we listening to? We unravel the mystery with NYU media professor Mara Mills who studies the historical relationship between disability and media technologies.

In Episode 8, “Test Subjects,” we examine the strange and obscure history of sound’s use as a psychological diagnostic tool. In the late 20th century, while many disabilities were eliminated through medical interventions, a host of new disabilities were invented, especially within the realm of psychology. Mills’s historical work in the audio archives of American Foundation for the Blind reveals how auditory projective testing was used to diagnose blind people with additional psychological disabilities. As we listen to these strange archival sounds, we learn how culture and technology shape the history of human ability and disability.

Read Mara Mill’s article on auditory projective tests, “Evocative Object: Auditory Inkblot” and visit NYU’s Center for Disability Studies, which she co-directs with Faye Ginsburg. Thanks to archivist Helen Selsdon and the American Foundation for the Blind for the use of the auditory projective tests.

This episode’s theme music is by Mack Hagood with additional music by Graeme Gibson, Blue Dot Sessions, Claude Debussy, and Duke Ellington. The show was edited by Craig Eley and Mack Hagood.

Your Host

Mack Hagood

Mack Hagood is the Robert H. and Nancy J. Blayney Associate Professor of Comparative Media Studies at Miami University, Ohio, where he studies digital media, sound technologies, disability, and popular music.

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