History and Philosophy of Science Seminar: Ruben Verwaal

Dr Verwaal, from Durham University, will talk on the following topic: ‘Fluid Deafness: Earwax and Hardness of Hearing in Early Modern Science’.

The research seminar of the Centre for History and Philosophy of Science runs fortnightly during term time.

Please note, that this event will be held on Microsoft Teams. Contact e.clarke@leeds.ac.uk for link to join the event.


‘Fluid Deafness: Earwax and Hardness of Hearing in Early Modern Science’

Ruben Verwaal (Durham University)

This talk discusses hearing disability in early modern science and presents Enlightenment medicine as part of a profound shift in thinking about deafness. Scholars have already described changes in the social status of the deaf in eighteenth-century Europe, pointing at clerics’ sympathy for the deaf and philosophers’ fascination with gestures as the origin of language. Yet few historians have examined the growing interest in deafness by physicians. From the seventeenth century onwards, natural philosophers and physicians researched varieties in ear wax, discovered fluids in the Eustachian Tube and cochlea, and developed new theories about the propagation of sound waves via so-called fluid airs. This paper proposes that the renewed focus on the fluids brought about a new understanding of auditory perception, which reconstructed hearing and deafness not in terms of a dichotomy, but in terms of a grading scale.