Imperial Sound Media

As technologies of culture, rather than might, the phonograph and the radio played a crucial role in developing the collective imaginary of “nationhood,” in cementing listening publics and communities, and promoting cultural assimilation amongst colonized subjects. While visual depictions of conquered lands through scientific means (cartography) and artistic rendering remained important tools of colonizing forces, sonic media also played a significant role in shaping taste throughout colonial territories. By controlling the radio, imperial forces could regulate the news and access to information for colonized peoples, but they could also shape culture through musical programming and access to literature and theater. Recordings of western music disseminated through the phonograph shaped taste, while colonial forces also prioritized making recordings of indigenous music to preserve for posterity. Despite the fact that access to these technologies was often heavily regulated by the colonial state, which controlled their output, these media also played a significant role in resistance movements and revolt and revolution against colonial oppression.


This reading group, “Imperial Sound Media,” therefore proposes to examine a few of the technologies that facilitated the sonic development of colonial empires in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, with a particular focus on radio and the phonograph. Our topic of inquiry lies at the intersection of many disciplines: music and ethnomusicology, colonial history, history of science, anthropology, and sound studies. While our shared expertise is in continental Africa and French colonialism, we have made an effort to diversify our corpus to include a broad range of colonial contexts, including India, China, North and Central America, the Caribbean, and the Arab peninsula. Drawing upon a combination of theoretical and historical texts, our reading group will explore how sound shaped what it means to be a colonial subject, how these technologies were wielded by colonizers, and how colonized peoples appropriated them for their own purposes. For more information please contact [email protected]
Spring 2021 schedule (dates and times)

  1. Monday, February 15th, 2-3:30pm EST
  2. Monday, March 1st, 2-3:30pm EST
  3. Monday, March 22nd, 2-3:30pm EST
  4. Monday, April 5th, 2-3:30pm EST
  5. Monday, April 19th, 2-3:30pm EST

Fall 2020 schedule -

Thursdays at 1:30pm
1 - Thursday Sep 17th
2 - Thursday Oct 1st
3 - Thursday Oct 15th
4 - Thursday Oct 29th
5 - Thursday Nov 12th