NOTE: The AMS Newsletter of the American Musicological Society features a series of reflections from musicologists who have pursued non-tenure-track careers. We are pleased to co-publish this essay from the August 2014 Newsletter.
My move into the realm of public musicology was sparked by a new research project upon which I embarked after being awarded the 2010 Janet Levy Prize from the AMS for travel to South Africa. Having spent the previous fifteen years working on late renaissance and early baroque Italian music and cultural history and lecturing at various American universities in Florence, I had begun to explore new research interests in the field of music and human rights. This evolved into a book project about music during the anti-apartheid struggle and its critical role as a tool for resistance, survival, and propelling social justice by political prisoners, especially at the notorious Robben Island prison (which held Nelson Mandela for eighteen years) and the women’s jails. In South Africa, I worked on various archival collections of liberation-struggle materials and started to record oral testimonies and music by surviving political prisoners of the apartheid prisons.
|Thenjiwe Mtintso, former deputy secretary general of the African National Congress|
and current South African ambassador to Romania,
being interviewed about her experiences in the women’s apartheid jails
by Janie Cole, filmed Ted Bogosian.
Through public musicology, a wider following can be reached, and a difference can be made. Recording oral histories acts as catharsis and creates positive change in the survivors’ lives and communities. Future screenings of our powerful visual narratives at international film festivals, higher-educational institutions, and academic conferences and seminars can ultimately stimulate social engagement and create a learning tool for future generations, while preserving a unique cultural heritage.
To conclude, I inadvertently now find myself in a brave new world of public musicology with a challenging mission in cultural heritage preservation and developing new mediums for musicological research. I also fully intend to continue to straddle both public and academic spheres through papers, publications, and teaching in the hope of captivating wider audiences, raising interdisciplinary awareness, and inspiring and fostering a new generation of musicologists who will carry forward our discipline.