Conference announcement: please circulate, apologies for cross-posting.
Connected Histories & Synoptic Methods: Music and Colonial Transitions in South and Southeast Asia
“Musical Transitions to European Colonialism in the Eastern Indian Ocean” is a large-scale European Research Council project (2011–15) that seeks to produce a history of the transitions of musical cultures and soundscapes from early-modern to colonial regimes in India, Sri Lanka and the Malay world. In the final conference of the project, we aim to establish the ways in which our findings over the past four years contribute to an interconnected understanding of eastern Indian Ocean sonic cultures in the context both of widespread colonial interventions in the region and of the constellation of new technologies and ideas simultaneous with colonialism that have come to constitute the “modern”. We hope to formulate a synthetic historiographical framework for connecting and comparing the effects of European colonialism on musical transitions within and between South and Southeast Asia, one that has relevance to histories of the wider Indian Ocean as an interregional space. In particular, we wish to elucidate both similarities and differences in the ways in which the peoples across this region appropriated and resisted European influences while engaging in new modes of cosmopolitan living and anti-colonial resistance.
As we approach the end of the “Musical Transitions project”, team members will have the opportunity to reflect collectively and comparatively on the huge amount of data gathered, research conducted, and questions asked, reframed and addressed. Our original hypotheses have been tested and tempered by archival realities – an embarrassment of riches in India, a relative paucity of vernacular and visual sources in the Malay world – and our areas and focuses of inquiriy consequentially altered. But the original ambition-- to produce a new connective methodological framework in and through which to analyse the musical history of this vast region-- remains our guiding principle as we enter the final stages of this research.
The “Connected Histories” conference prompts us to evaluate the nature of connections across this region and time period in a variety of modes and along multiple, overlapping axes: time; space; multiple languages and musical literatures; genre and ensemble; travel and circulation; borrowing, mixing and adaptation; lineages and economies both social and epistemological; the local and localities; alternative historical modes; community and identity; sonic power and auditory history; progress and modernity; and the notion of the paracolonial. This list does not aspire to be a comprehensive description; we are certain that conference participants will have perspectives that challenge and/or supplement these. Yet we offer them as initial suggestions or prompts to us all to think about how we might approach the crucial methodological challenges of this conference; and as only several among many ways we might think through the problematic of a diverse, connected ethnomusicological history of the region and period. For this is one of the wider questions of the project: to ask what a genuinely ethnomusicological historical method should look like.