To historicize sound is to raise some challenging ontological and epistemological questions about the nature of sound production and its reception by hearing and listening subjects. In this sense, aurality, as an ‘object’ of historical enquiry, is radically dispersed: its materials are distributed, especially in the pre-phonographic era, across numerous media, locked into the interstitial spaces between texts, images, scores, buildings and instruments (both musical and technical) for the production of sound. The aural residues of the past can be traced in a vast array of primary source materials including literature, treatises, scientific writings, newspapers, letters, diaries, account books, legislative documents, musical scores, civic records and parish registers. Sources like these – though silent, material objects – bear witness to there having been sound, and encourage us to listen out for the now faint echoes of fleeting, intangible, aural worlds of the past: the cacophony of street noises and the hum of the market; the hushed murmurs of the court; the raucous strains of the ballad seller on market day; the sociable musical gatherings of amateur musicians; the carefully engineered soundworlds of civic and religious festivities; the sounds of public worship; the ringing of church bells; the sounding of fusillades and cannon salvos; and the changing soundscapes of urban spaces through architectural developments, the introduction of new sound reproduction technologies and the encroachment of industrial modernity. These residues do more, however, than simply open up sonic windows on reverberations from the past. They engage us in narratives of how sound has shaped past lives: how it has carried meaning for individuals and institutions; how it has intervened in and reflected individual and corporate identities; and how, in various ways, it has been manipulated, or has inadvertently acted, as a mechanism of power (both hegemonic and subversive); and how, in turn, such sonic articulations of power and its subversion have been manipulated and controlled. Stories of sound are, indeed, stories of subjectivity, sociability, power and politics. The complexity of thinking aurality (a term we use here to emphasize the interchange of agents that contribute to the making, marking and reception of sound) in the pre-phonographic era is, however, always about a certain gap between an imagined plenitude that the historian brings to soundscapes past and the partiality (and dispersed nature) of materials and discourses that enable any such thinking.