“The Sound of Empire in 20th-c. Colonial Cultures: Rethinking History through Music”
Bern, Mittelstrasse 43, Raum 120,
Increasingly colonial culture appears less coherent than post-colonialists might suggest. Historians are turning away from “culture” as a fixed set of norms and values imposed on a population, to “cultures” as fluid, contingent, and inevitably métissées. In the project MUSICOL, 2019-2024, we rethink some assumptions about the nature of empire. First, we are attentive to local distinctions, rejecting overarching generalizations about empire that ignore imperial differences. Second, we examine musical fields and practices as opportunities for the agency of both settlers and native populations, rather than as the manufacture of difference. We take seriously Cooper 2005’s contention that, to “think like an empire” means recognizing “the limits of control over large and diverse populations.” Empire depended on a range of agents, including local elites, vulnerable to not only local resistance, but also “the growth of circuits that bypassed the imperial center.” It is important, then, not to force the social contours of musical life into prescribed models of domination or resistance. And third, as Stoler has shown with class, ethnicity, and gender, we suggest that sentiment and the imagination evoked by music elude the disciplining control of rationality. theaters, public parks, entertainment venues, recordings, and radio in urban centers across the French empire, MUSICOL recognizes that colonial ideologies, music, and musicians often connected these fields within and across cities and regions; through circulation, they became part of the empire.