Department of Music Colloquium

Presenter: Tamara Levitz
Location: 100 Washington Square East, Silver Center, Room 320

"Decolonizing the American Musicological Society"

In the past decade, musicologists have sought to make the American Musicological Society more inclusive by expanding its public outreach, increasing minority representation within its ranks, supplementing the canon of works considered foundational to its research mission (especially by integrating popular music), and welcoming the contributions of music scholars who work outside the academy. Members have implemented these strategies based on the assumption that they can achieve social justice by increasing representation within their society, without fundamentally altering its institutional structure. Such approaches ignore the society's system of white supremacy.

In this talk, I will investigate the early history of the American Musicological Society's as an institution of white supremacy with the goal of providing the understanding necessary to dismantle that system in the present. To the end of critiquing white supremacy, I embrace an intellectual critical project of what I call, in reference to the current student movement in South Africa and the work of Capucine Boidin, James Cohen, and Ramรณn Grosfoguel, and others, decolonizing the American Musicological Society. Focusing on the society's early years from 1934-45, and basing my analysis on extensive research I have done in the archives of the society, as well as in the Guido Adler Collection, and the UCLA and USC University archives, I uncover and critique how knowledge production in the American Musicological Society was and continues to be determined by 1) white property, or ownership of land, resources, media and ideas; 2) white undemocratic acts of excluding racial and gender minorities; 3) white privileged practices of social distinction; and 4) white institutional acts of settler colonialism. By undertaking this historical analysis and critique I hope to encourage a shift in the American Musicological Society away from its current emphasis on strategies to increase minority representation that maintain the status quo, and toward direct political activism that ends white supremacy.