FSU College of Music researcher receives National Endowment of Humanities fellowship for book on music, slavery

Maria Ryan, an assistant professor of musicology at the FSU College of Music
Maria Ryan, an assistant professor of musicology at the FSU College of Music.

A Florida State University researcher has received National Endowment of Humanities funding to explore the connections forged between music, race and slavery in the 18th century and how those connections resonate in the present day.

Maria Ryan, an assistant professor of musicology at the FSU College of Music, secured a $30,000 NEH fellowship to work on “Ambivalent Listening: Race, Music, and Slavery in the British Colonial Caribbean, 1750–1838.”

“Receiving an NEH fellowship is invaluable in allowing me to dedicate time to complete my book,” Ryan said. “Through this research, I have collected a huge amount of data about music, musicians, and listening in the British colonial Caribbean, and the NEH fellowship provides an incredible opportunity for dedicated time to revisit these thousands of records, weaving them into the story I tell in the book about the changing ways that people in scenes of slavery engaged with European music in the decades leading up to emancipation.”

“Ambivalent Listening” incorporates materials from a dozen archives across five countries to examine how African and African-descended people engaged with European music to assert their intellectual and aesthetic capabilities while simultaneously learning, adapting, and sometimes subverting the music of those who subjugated them.

“Although I was born in London into a family descended from Jamaican and Irish immigrants, from childhood, I chose to pursue training as a musician in the classical European tradition,” she said. “However, as I continued my musical higher education, I began to question the gap I had perceived between my family heritage and the music that I performed and researched.”

These questions led Ryan to her current book project in which she examines the lives of musicians who played their master’s tunes, “arguing that ideas about the relationship between music and race were in flux during slavery.”

“Dr. Ryan’s important investigation into how music both impacts and reflects the lives of people in a social and historical context is vital to understanding the past and also the present,” said Gregory Jones, associate dean for outreach and engagement in the College of Music. “She is an important part of our distinguished musicology program that unites faculty and students in innovative research and creative musical presentations.”

Ryan praised colleagues in the musicology area who are a “constant inspiration due to their ambition to pursue multimodal, interdisciplinary musicological research.”

“It is a true privilege to teach and research at the FSU College of Music, where one is constantly surrounded by outstanding musicians and researchers,” Ryan said. “My work is greatly informed by my work with College of Music graduate students in classes I have taught over the past few years and by the cutting-edge, multi-modal work of my colleagues. It is a truly collegial atmosphere where we are supported in pursuing research that pushes the boundaries of our discipline, drawing on the strengths of the resources of a large College of Music.”

For more information, visit music.fsu.edu.