Women, Representation, and Music in Selected Folk Traditions of the British Isles and North America

Fall 2005, Wednesdays, 7–10 p.m. , September 14– December 7, 2005

This course investigates the special relation of women to several musical folk traditions in the British Isles and North America. We will examine the gendered dimensions of the music—the song texts, the performance styles—as well as the processes of dissemination (collection, literary representation) and issues of historiography to analyze the specific contribution of women to this tradition. In addition to telling stories about women’s musical lives, and studying elements of female identity and subjectivity in song texts and music, we will investigate the ways in which women’s work and women’s cultural roles have affected the folk traditions of these several countries. We will begin with the earliest eighteenth-century collectors of folk music in the British Isles, focus on Anglo-American and African-American repertories, and end with the most recent folk revival of the 1960s.


Ruth Perry is a professor of literature at MIT. Past president of the American Society for Eighteenth-Century Studies, founding director of the MIT women’s studies program as well as the Graduate Consortium in Women’s Studies, she has also been a folksinger for most of her life. Her work has been about eighteenth-century English literature and culture and about the effects of gender on the production of art. In addition to five books, she has published essays on canonical figures such as Pope, Sterne, Richardson, Austen, and Hawthorne, as well as contemporary women writers such as Grace Paley and Mary Gordon. Her most recent book is a study of families in eighteenth-century English fiction called Novel Relations: The Transformations of Kinship in England 1748–1818.

Judith Tick is a music historian who specializes in American music and women’s history. A Matthews Distinguished University Professor at Northeastern University, she co-edited the pioneering anthology Women Making Music: The Western Art Tradition 1150–1950 (University of Illinois Press, 1986), now regarded as a classic in the field. Other publications include the prize-winning biography, Ruth Crawford Seeger: A Composer’s Search for American Music (Oxford University Press, 1997); Aaron Copland’s America: A Cultural Perspective (Watson-Guptill, 2000), co-authored with art historian Gail Levin; and the entry “women and music” for the revised New Grove Dictionary of American Music . She currently serves as an associate editor for the scholarly journal Musical Quarterly.


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Consortium for Graduate Studies in Gender, Culture, Women, and Sexuality
Massachusetts Institute of Technology, 14N-211
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Cambridge, MA 02139
Phone: 617-324-2085