Selective Hereditary Word Deafness - Research Center for Material Culture
23 June 2016

Selective Hereditary Word Deafness

Public Lecture | 23 Jun 2016 | RCMC

Anette Hoffmann is a Research Fellow on Sound Archives. Thursday, the 23th of June, she will be the speaker on the public lecture Selective Hereditary Word Deafness or how recorded voices do not speak from the Colonial Archive.

Coloniality's selective word deafness

Given the enormous amount of acoustic recordings as results of imperial knowledge production, the colonial archive is remarkably silent. Those who came to act as native informants, or were subjects of research, are mostly known from images, and ethnographic texts, yet rarely appear as speakers of meaningful words. This is also the case with regard to the recording of a man whose ethnographic stage name is ‘Kubi’. He was phonographically and cinematographically recorded in the western Kalahari in 1908. The silent movie produced by the Austrian anthropologist Rudolf Pöch was post-synchronised with the sound file in the 1980s. The now sounding film is circulated widely, yet the speaker remained astoundingly mute. Anette Hoffmann’s lecture revisits the scene of recording and the archival biography of the acoustic and visual material to discuss coloniality’s selective word deafness, and what it could mean to listen closely.


Anette Hoffmann is an independent scholar and curator living in Berlin. She received her PhD from the Amsterdam School for Cultural Analysis in 2005. Her work focuses on historical voice recordings that were produced by anthropologists, linguists and musicologist in the larger project of imperial knowledge production since the early 20th century. Hoffmann has curated the exhibtion What We See (shown between 2009-2013 in South Africa, Germany, Austria, Switzerland and Namibia) and has published on acoustic collections, anthropometric practices, oral poetry and historiology from southern Africa. Currently she works on the recordings that were produced with African prisoners of war in WWI in Germany and are held by the Lautarchiv in Berlin.

Key publications

  • “Listening to Sound Archives” Introduction to Edited Section” Social Dynamics Vol. 41, Issue 1, Special Segment on Sound Archives, edited by Anette Hoffmann, 2015.
  • “Hearing Voices in the Archive” with Phindezwa Mnyaka, Social Dynamics Vol. 41, Issue 1, Special Segment on Sound Archives, edited by Anette Hoffmann, 2015.
  • “Echoes of the Great War: the Recordings of African Prisoners of WWI” Open Arts Journal Issue 3, 2014. What We See: Reconsidering an Anthropometrical Collection: Images, Voices and Versioning. Basel: Basler Afrika Bibliographien, 2009.

The Sound Archive project and research fellowship is funded by Global Interactions at Leiden University.


Leiden University