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School of Music, Theatre & Dance pres.

Ethel V. Curry Distinguished Lecture: Prof. Tim Rice, UCLA

“Ethnomusicologists as Music Historians”

Bruno Nettl, in his 1983 magisterial conspectus The Study of Ethnomusicology: 29 Issues and Concepts, suggested that this field might best be understood as “the science of music history.” And yet it can seem that what makes ethnomusicology unique among music disciplines is its devotion to ethnographic field work. So what is the role of history in this field of study? How do ethnomusicologists “do” history? Do they understand themselves as historians or ethnographers or both? Since the demise of comparative musicology in the United States, most historical writing in ethnomusicology has been associated with particular ethnographic studies. After an examination of some classic examples of historical studies in ethnomusicology, I discuss my recent attempt to skirt the problems of “universal history,” avoided in ethnomusicology since the 1960s, in my writing of what amounts to a history of the world’s music.


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