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Audible Traces: What Music Offers Historians

Fri, March 31, 7:30 to 9:00pm, Palmer House Hilton, Fourth Floor, Red Lacquer Room


Musicologists have long contributed to the interdisciplinary field of history by gathering and interpreting verbal evidence: archival documents, letters, manifestos, and the like. But the music itself continues to count as an epiphenomenon — pleasant to listen to, but largely irrelevant to the central tasks of the social historian.

Notated scores record historical evidence of a sort. Raymond Williams called the kinds of phenomena I investigate “structures of feeling”: patterns that shaped and that were also shaped by human societies. Along with Michel Foucault, Clifford Geertz, and Williams, I regard these as crucial aspects of lived experience, and I maintain that the specificity of music notation offers a superb avenue for recovering such elusive traces.

This lecture will demonstrate some ways in which music might give us a window on structures of feeling in the early seventeenth century. Taking the music seriously might raise new kinds of questions for fellow historians.


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