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Thomas Irvine: From Macartney to May Fourth
Tuesday, November 6th, 2018
4:00 pm
Conrad Prebys Music Center 231

From Macartney to May Fourth: The Intellectual Histories of the Sino-Western Encounter in Music

"In my forthcoming book Listening to China: Sound and the Sino-Western Encounter, 1770-1839 (U. of Chicago Press) I trace how Westerners around 1800 used encounters with Chinese soundworlds to refashion their own musical identities. The Macartney Embassy to the court of Qianlong in 1793 is a key episode in this story. Macartney, who took musical advice from his acquaintance the music historian Charles Burney, included several musically knowledgable officials in his entourage. They were specifically charged with the acquisition of knowledge about Chinese musical practices and the demonstration of “advanced” Western ones to Chinese audiences. As was the case with the Embassy as a whole, the results were at best ambivalent, for both sides. In this talk I will build on this material to explore how the Chinese experiences of Western musicking, and the production of knowledge in the West about Chinese music and its practices, might be understood in ways that depart from traditional notions of “encounter” and “cultural transfer.” Such notions, I will argue, invite interpretations that too often revolve around (Eurocentric) commonplaces such as “progress” and “modernization.” A methodological impulse will come from Actor-Network Theory (following Bruno Latour). How, I will ask, might the Sino-Western musical experience be related to experiences in science and technology? I will touch briefly on three case studies: the theorization of the space of the sounding octave in the early modern era, the mass “keyboardization” of China via the introduction of the piano in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, and the overlap between scientific and musical expertise in the "May Fourth generation” of Chinese intellectuals (e.g. Cai Yuanpei, Zhao Yuanren) in the Nationalist period."

Dr Thomas Irvine works on the intellectual history of music from 1750 to the present, with special interests in transnational and global history, the history of musical institutions in the British Empire and science and technology studies. His monograph Listening to China: Sound and the Sino-Western Encounter (1770-1839) is forthcoming from the University of Chicago Press. A volume co-edited with the historian Neil Gregor, Dreams of Germany: Musical Imaginaries from the Concert Hall to the Dance Floor, is will be published by Berghahn Books in late 2018. He is Associate Professor and Doctoral Programme Director in Music at the University of Southampton. He is a non-executive director of the Southampton Web Science Institute.

Co-sponsored by the UC San Diego Music Department and the UC San Diego History Department.


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