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"I teach a course called the History of Music City, which focuses on the history of those American cities that were especially important in the history of American music, from New York and New Orleans to Nashville and Chicago. I want students to get a sense of the political and cultural climate in which 20th century musicians worked. As a historian, I look at the development of jazz in New Orleans in relation to the emergence of the African, French, and Spanish New Worlds. I look at the rise of Southern Rock as part of the growing political power of the New South, and I look at punk rock against the backdrop of the economy of the 1970s and 1980s. So I want students to be able to place music history within that larger social and cultural context."
"I developed the course the History of America's Image in the World because so many of our students travel abroad to play, and they work extensively with musicians from other countries. They take pride in American musical traditions but sometimes have a complicated relationship with American political and social history, and they need to be better-prepared to work in a world in which people have strong negative and strong positive ideas about the nation's history and role. In other words, they need to stop playing gigs abroad and telling people they're from Canada."
"It's important for students to know, understand, and appreciate the culture so they can critique it more responsibly. My field is intellectual history, so we focus on the power of ideas and the way the same ideas endure across cultures and over time. What do people in different cultures do with the same idea?"
"I had a student one semester who said to me, 'I feel so much better knowing that the things I struggle with now are questions that people have always struggled with.' History teaches us to know ourselves."
"Before turning to American history, I was in a graduate creative writing program studying narrative poetry. But it's not such a leap. History is also a collection of great narratives, and it's exciting to teach it that way."