CFP: American Music and the Construction of Race: American Revolution to the Civil War

The Society for American Music invites written papers related to the seminar topic “American Music and the Construction of Race: American Revolution to the Civil War ” co-organized by Rhae Lynn Barnes and Glenda Goodman for its 45th Annual Conference in New Orleans, Louisiana, to be held 20–24 March 2019. All proposals must be submitted via the SAM website by 11:59 pm PDT on 1 June 2018.

American Music and the Construction of Race: American Revolution to the Civil War

45th Annual Conference – New Orleans, Louisiana, 20-24 March 2019

The Society for American Music welcomes proposals involving all facets of musical life throughout the Americas and about American music and aspects of its cultures anywhere in the world.

Racial ideology is baked into the cultural and musical history of the United States. The expectation that the newly formed nation would consist of white citizens was explicit and implicit in the era of the Revolution and was not fully laid aside with the end of the American Civil War. A hierarchical understanding of race shaped daily life in America and was central to its musical life. From the pious educational goals of Lowell Mason, to exoticized depictions of Native Americans, to the use of yellowface to lampoon Chinese Americans, music was powerfully influential in the construction of racial ideologies. While the interrelated relationships among race, modernity, and U.S. music is of enduring interest to scholars–especially those focused on the twentieth century to today–this seminar session is dedicated to tracing these long-term themes throughout the decades between the American Revolution and the Civil War, while integrating the multimedia revolution that underpinned race, citizenship, and American music in a broader sense.

Americans who lived in the early nineteenth century were confronted with a bewildering set of changes in their lifetimes. Beyond the many shifting flags under which they lived (Britain, French, France, Native rule, the Confederacy, and the United States), the proliferation of new technology, urbanization, transportation, and the expansion of slavery in U.S. held territories, transformed and circulated public perceptions of racial categories and representation, American citizenship, and emerging ideas of American culture, celebrity, and music entertainment. In the midst of this remarkable flux, U.S. music cultures and related industries helped create, sustain, and reinforce categories of race in an era when new Americans developed a cultural fascination with self- presentation.

A key example, and one that is well studied, is the monumentally popular blackface minstrelsy tradition, which rapidly spread around the globe–circulating through the same global trade and transportation networks that fostered American immigration, slavery, and exchange–and became part of a toxic hybrid of stereotypes and understandings of “Americanness.” By the 1840s, blackface was fashioned as America’s first authentic cultural export. Although blackface minstrelsy remains the limit case of racialized musical representation, it did not exist in a vacuum. Exoticist and sentimental depictions of native peoples, which were typical in eighteenth-century genteel entertainment, morphed into to new forms with the expansion of the entertainment industry. The arrival of new immigrant groups further churned the waters of American culture, troubling the ethnic and racial hierarchies that music co-constituted.

This seminar seeks to provide a space for the cultivation of new areas of inquiry into the intersection of race, music, and U.S. cultural history. We encourage papers using a wide variety of sources, including ethnographic work, material artifacts like historical instruments, sheet music, theatrical ephemera, photography, journals, and all forms of print media.

Submission instructions: Those wishing to participate in the seminar should submit a 250-word proposal based on their paper, clearly designating the seminar topic for which the proposal should be considered.

Although papers for the seminar will not be “read” at the meeting in the traditional sense, the act of participating in the seminar as a presenter and defending the ideas of one’s paper constitutes the same level of participation in an academic conference as a traditional paper. For this reason, those submitting abstracts toward one of the seminars cannot also submit toward a regular session.

Leave a Reply