Chronicling “America’s African Instrument”: Laurent Dubois on the Cultural History of the Banjo

In The Banjo: America’s African Instrument (Harvard Univ. Press, 2016), Laurent Dubois weaves a narrative of how this instrument was created by enslaved Africans in the midst of bondage in the Caribbean and Americas. He documents its journey from 17th- and 18th-century plantations to 19th-century minstrel shows to the bluegrass of Appalachia to the folk revival of the mid-20th century. In the process, Dubois documents how the banjo came to symbolize community, slavery, resistance, and ultimately America itself. A historian of the Caribbean and a banjo player himself, Dubois relied on the work of academic historians as well as insights from musicians, collectors, and banjo makers to tell this story.

History in Harmony: How I Apply My Historical Training to Music Criticism

By David Allen

Whether critics are interested in painting, sculpture, jazz, fiction, or any other art, they are, or at least can be, engaged in historical work. They root descriptions of, and judgments about, contemporary art in an understanding of the past. They might be more prone than professional historians to treating the past on the terms of the present, granted, but they do work that engages history all the same. 

Banjos in Baltimore: Using Music to Tell History

In the October 2015 issue of Perspectives on History, I wrote on historically informed performance of medieval, Renaissance, and baroque music. Musicians at the Folger and Newberry Consorts spoke to me about how history informed their music, and in turn how music could help transport listeners to a different time.

At the National Council on Public History annual meeting in Baltimore last month, I once again found myself at the intersection of music and history at a workshop called “Banjos in the Museum: Music as Public History.” Organized by the Stevenson University public history program, this workshop featured archivist and musicologist Greg Adams and instrumentalists Ken and Brad Kolodner.

Music in New Orleans

The following post can also be found in the annual meeting supplement, both online and handed out during the meeting.

In New Orleans," says pianist, composer, and producer Allen Toussaint, "the music isn't just in the clubs or on the dance floor, it's in everything.

National Jukebox

The Library of Congress’s National Jukebox site is like the Pandora of the early 1900s. Visit and you can instantly stream, make playlists of, and browse through over 10,000 historical recordings from 1900 through 1925. We briefly mentioned the Jukebox in last week’s What We’re Reading, linking to The Chronicle’s article on it, but this resource impressed us so much we had to take a closer look. Article By: Elisabeth Grant

Country Music Foundation Concludes Oral History Project

The Country Music Foundation, Inc. (CMF), which operates the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum in Nashville, Tennessee, has just completed a major oral history project. The project involved re-recording and transcribing interviews with 638 individuals involved in the country music industry since the 1920s. Article By: David Darlington