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"Brant’s Barrel Organ, Cosmopolitanism, and the Aurality of British Imperialism"

Abstract: Joseph Brant’s barrel organ provides an object lesson in the push and pull of settler colonial-Indigenous relations in the eighteenth century. During the American Revolution, Mohawk political and military leader Joseph Brant traveled to London to pledge his loyalty to the crown and seek guarantees of protection for Mohawk peoples’ lands and livelihoods in what is now upstate New York. George III welcomed his loyalty and Brant was the toast of the town in London, receiving many gifts, including a barrel organ. But the land was not protected. Brant and nearly two thousand other Haudenosaunee Indians became refugees after the war and were forced to move to Grand River, Ontario. The barrel organ went with him, bringing tunes from British comic operas and Anglican hymns to new Native listeners.  

Histories of the eighteenth century often ignore Native Americans’ engagement with music. In part, this is due to a spotty and compromised historical record. But it is also due to a lack of imagination that can be remedied by centering material culture and finding new approaches to colonialist archives. Using such approaches, this talk explores both how British music, including that of the barrel organ, was a tool that helped to advance colonial territorial spread; and how music was a tool that people in Native communities—in this case, Brant—co-opted and adapted to their own geopolitical, cultural, and spiritual purposes.  

Glenda Goodman’s work explores the intersection of material culture, gender, and race in early American music. Her first book, Cultivated by Hand: Amateur Musicians in the Early American Republic (OUP 2020), shows how gendered, elite white musicking was critical to the cultural work of nation-formation following the American Revolution. This book won the Lewis Lockwood Prize for best first book from the American Musicological Society. She is currently investigating the roles English Protestant music played in eighteenth-century settler-Indigenous relations in the Native Northeast. She is an Associate Professor of Music at the University of Pennsylvania.

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