Published online by Cambridge University Press: 30 June 2019
In historical study, the inaudible is the unknowable. Even in the sphere of twentieth-century history, vast tracts of auditory experience – especially in wartime – are completely undocumented. The upshot of this truth is that only with a full sense of the limitations both of our auditory archives and of what can be represented honestly can we construct representations of war that avoid distortion or sanitization. This is particularly true in museum exhibitions on war, where it is now fashionable to use false sound to offer the visitor what is termed "total immersion in history." This approach is a dead end. Instead, we need to leave unsaid that which is false or invented or commercially effective and stage-managed in our museums and other public representations of war. Fake noise is fake history. This chapter uses the experience of the Historial de la Grande Guerre, a museum of the Great War in France, to demonstrate that silence is an important signifier of what we do not know and cannot know about the past. Only when we realize this simple truth can museum designers and curators serve the very large population of people who seek a deeper understanding of war in historical museums around the world.