Past Associate

The Globalization of Music, 1877-1939
Harry M Liebersohn
Associate 2013-14

As post-colonial and technological interpretations suggest, the global empires of the late nineteenth century and the linkages of steamship, railway, and phonograph provided the conditions for a new kind of cultural encounter. Empire and technology, however, do not begin to explain the creative crossing of cultures that took place. A more complex view emerges from close attention to the era’s intellectual life in relation to the wave of musical globalization that lasted from Edison’s invention of the phonograph in 1877 to the outbreak of World War II.

Beginning in the 1880s, individuals schooled in methodologically self-conscious artistic movements and in the discipline-driven, newly formed research universities took advantage of the cross-cultural movement of instruments, recordings, and people to pioneer new forms of cultural understanding. The appropriation of music across cultural borders was a commercial event as well as a scholarly one, and both sides of the process took off with tremendous energy around 1900. Chinese, Indian, and other non-Western intellectuals and musicians furthered the globalization of music as much as their Western counterparts; high cultural and popular music became intertwined as they made their way around the world, bringing changes to both genres.

During his Center appointment Professor Liebersohn will explore these dimensions of the musical revolution in a book-length project that will be the first extensive historical study of this musical revolution. The work will enlarge the history of cultural encounter, which has been dominated by visual and literary studies and has given little attention to music. It will also suggest that for more than a century the globalization of music has been about challenges to existing cultures – and the creative choices made by people around the world to turn those challenges into the stuff of self-expression.

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