New Intellectual Histories of Music

Tomas McAuley (University of Cambridge)
David Trippett (University of Cambridge)

This seminar explores the notion that music history can be told in terms of changes in our ways of thinking. Throughout the closing decades of the twentieth century, intellectual history was widely considered to be old-fashioned, naïve, and even elitist. Dahlhaus’ verdict from 1977, that it had ‘simply collapsed of old age,’ reflected both widespread scepticism towards intellectual history and the concomitant rise of social history.

Come the new millennium, however, and the fortunes of intellectual history began to change, so much so that the editors of a landmark 2014 collection could state confidently: ‘it is difficult to remember a time when intellectual history figured so centrally in the larger historical enterprise.’ Recent moves in musicology arguably bear out this attitude, engaging in particular the vexed but productive difficulties of writing intellectual histories of a frequently nonverbal art-form. The opportunities offered to musicology by such a turn to intellectual history are therefore not simply those of applying to music insights from other disciplines, but reflect the unique possibilities of thinking conceptually about the nonconceptual.

This seminar seeks to assess the current state and future direction of what it calls ‘new intellectual histories of music’; to reflect on the historiographies underpinning such histories; and to ask what music can offer the intellectual-historical enterprise more generally.

We welcome proposals for papers examining specific moments within the history of music framed in relation to intellectual history, as well as methodological reflections on the opportunities and challenges that such approaches might afford. The seminar is not restricted to any particular period or genre, but aims rather to bring into dialogue scholars from a diverse range of backgrounds in order to address an issue of methodological relevance to the field as a whole.

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