Now You Hear It: Music & History

I greatly appreciate the time we were granted in DH to consider or rethink how we use music in our history courses.  In my early days as a French and ESL teacher, I created songs to help my students absorb various concepts.  My favorite “Love Revised” carried my 10th and 11th graders through a jazzy lesson in composition writing that I still enjoy singing for fun when no one is in earshot:  “Baby, Dot my “i’s”/cross my “t’s”/make a polished paper out of me/You see I have had enough of fragmented love…”  And the rendition goes on….

When I entered the college classroom as a French teacher, I continued to compose little songs to help my students remember various types of grammatical configurations.  And I was more than eager to use my creative skills once again to help me remember under pressure the numbers of sharps and flats found in various key signatures.

As I was trying to establish myself as a historian, I shied away from performance in the class room, and chose to include prerecorded performances that meshed well with a given historical theme or period.   Music as social protest was more suitable to my needs at the time.  With the advent of You Tube and a boost of confidence gained from a jazz history course I took on campus, I began including on my syllabi links to various songs with clear historical import: Billie Holiday’s haunting rendition of “Strange Fruit,” James Brown, “Say It Loud: I’m Black and I’m Proud,” Helen Reddy’s “I Am Woman,” and others.

My past and ongoing appreciate for music and music literature notwithstanding,  I greatly appreciate our discussion of music and digital history because it challenged me to imagine other meaningful ways to engage music in my history classes.


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