The Lyon Archive

Soundscapes Map and Exhibit Introduction

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Soundscapes Map: An Introduction


This map exhibit showcases features of A.S. Lyon's diaries, kept intermittently from 1822-1839, offering fascinating and rare glimpses of the experiences of a young man educating himself and attempting (and failing) to establish a successful business in London. Lyon’s bankruptcy ultimately forced him to leave England for Jamaica. The diaries chart his fall from a hopeful young man to feelings of despondency.  


A.S. Lyon lived in London’s East End, an area long imagined as dangerous and dirty, where prostitutes, drug addicts, and shoeless beggars dwelled in dark, dingy streets. Descriptions of Jack the Ripper and his murderous rampages made the East End “known” to the world in the 1880s. Such descriptions often prevent us from registering the vibrant cultural and intellectual life of working class East Enders. For a fuller discussion of this problem see my article: “1800-1900 Inside and Outside the Nineteenth-Century East End.” Lyon’s diary reminds us of what we stand to gain by looking beyond such sensational, one-dimensional spatial narratives.  


As a form of “writing from below,” Lyon’s diaries create an intimate account of the everyday life of an ordinary citizen. Compared with novels that convey character development and narrative climax, a diary might initially seem dull by comparison. In a diary there's no narrator to orient readers or to explain obscure references to people or events, as we might expect to find in a novel. I created this project to forge methods of interpreting Lyon’s writing that would capture both his vibrancy as a writer and the sound of his experiences making his way through noisy Victorian city streets, berating himself for his failing business, or hoping his latest crush would return his love. As a first-generation Jewish immigrant whose father fled antisemitism in Europe, Lyon had to negotiate his assimilation process, his desire to fit in as an English Jew, and his ultimate ostracism from London upon his descent into poverty.


In the early stages of working with Lyon's diary I wondered how might I use a map to hear Lyon’s writing amidst the bustling context of his London world? What could the sound of his voice help me to learn about his perspective as a young East End writer and business owner? And how might an exhibit of digital objects, such as the sound of prayer in a synagogue, paintings of the actors he saw on the London stage, or the sound of the music that might have played while he danced at balls amplify questions subtly hinted at in the written diary?  



The diaries—because of their linear, day-by-day form—may emphasize the significance of Lyon’s destinations. Michel de Certeau helpfully observes that urban walkers create “intertwined paths [that] give their shape to spaces. They weave places together” (The Practice of Everyday Life, 1984; Trans. Steven Rendell, 97). And in weaving together, Lyon gives shape and voice to his knowledge of those destinations.


This Soundscape Map Exhibit was created as a way to read the diary through the spatial lens of a nineteenth-century physical map, and to locate Lyon’s movement in space and time and through sound. He doesn’t mention horse’s hooves, but we know he must have heard them. He doesn’t mention the sound of crowds of people or the music at the theatre, but again, we know these sounds would have been part of his experience in London. What if we could hear what he sees as he walks to and from the theatre? What if we could hear his pen moving across the diary page? What if we could find ways to think about the juxtaposition of events or destinations he mentions, from one Synagogue to another, or from his office—the counting house—to the ball? How are these destinations related through Lyon's engagement with books he was reading or global events he mentions throughout the diaries?


These questions inspired the Soundscapes Map, a digital exhibit that invites is to interpret the experience of an East Ender’s path through the bustling Victorian streets of London, and to wonder about his difficult life lessons on failure and hope.


The diary entries appear on the map in chronological order (the entries are sequenced chronologically by pin-number), and each movie works to foreground the lived experiences recounted and imagined through Lyon's diary entry for that day. 



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