Date of Award

Spring 5-2009

Document Type

Dissertation - Restricted

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Department

History

Abstract

A resounding call to create a distinctively American national music culture emerged between 1800 and 1860 as a way to bind the varied, changing and uncertain components of the nation together. The language critics used to investigate and evaluate what American music could or should be, reveals their belief that music ways were intimately connected to what today would best be called race or ethnicity, and exposes their assumptions regarding diversity in America. Despite commentators’ conscious attempts to mitigate diversity’s threat to national unity by encouraging a national music culture, the mixed American populous negotiated their way through the varied cultural traditions surrounding them in a more benign and often unconscious fashion. A case study of the lower Mississippi River Valley’s music culture exposes diversity’s perceived threat to national unity, as well as the means to neutralize this threat, through the creation and consumption of ethnic musical genres. These genres served as integrating mechanisms for outsiders to any given musical tradition, as well as mediators between a particular music way and the larger national culture. The appeal of ethnically and racially labeled music ways came from their ability to transform the stranger into a familiar, even if done unconsciously and without breaking down all barriers of difference. By consuming musical difference, the unknown became a familiar part of one’s own repertoire of understanding. By categorizing the music culture into consumable ethnic genres, Americans dealt with the perceived threat diversity caused to the new nation searching for its own national culture and identity. Because most of the traits used to portray this region’s distinctiveness were shared by many other newly annexed places, the experiences of the population living between New Orleans, Louisiana and St. Louis, Missouri reveal a regional perspective of a national culture in formation. This process of naming others simultaneously created a self-identity and unconsciously succeeded in doing what the American nationalist commentators had been working to realize; the creation of an American culture out of the shared experience with diversity.

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