Penn has a long-standing relationship to ethnomusicology that dates back to the first meeting of the Society for Ethnomusicology at the Penn Museum in 1956. During the last twenty years, in particular, the graduate program in Ethnomusicology at the University of Pennsylvania has been at the forefront of ethnomusicological research. It has provided leading scholars with an intellectually charged environment and the resources necessary to push music and sound studies in daring directions through new methodologies, new repertories, and new theoretical interventions. Our program affords students the opportunity to study music, sound, and listening in an interdisciplinary and intersectional fashion.

The department faculty is particularly strong in the areas of African/a Studies, the Americas, the Caribbean, and South and Southeast Asia; in engaging musics across the Global South; and in conceptualizing music histories and ethnographies of islands, oceans, and waterways. Core faculty concerns include (but are not limited to) music, ethics, and the sacred; sound studies and ecomusicology; music and trauma; race, ethnicity, and empire; postcolonial studies; and decolonial methodologies. In the course of contributing to these overarching areas, individual faculty members in ethnomusicology pursue more focused lines of inquiry. Muller, for instance, writes extensively in the areas of gender studies and applied ethnomusicology in both South Africa and the US and is working in the area of trauma studies as well; Rommen continues to investigate the intersections between music and tourism and to explore projects of musical decoloniality in the Caribbean; and Sykes explores themes pertaining to war, capitalism, urban development, and ontological difference in Sri Lanka and Singapore.

Students have recently completed or are currently pursuing dissertation projects centered on South Korea, China, Hong Kong, Japan, Colombia, South Africa, Senegal, Iran, India, Thailand, the United States, Mexico, and Italy. Our students often establish links with Penn’s numerous area studies departments and centers (e.g., Africana Studies, Anthropology, The Middle East Center, South Asian Studies, and East Asian Studies). Opportunities abound for joining certificate programs, such as those offered by Penn’s Center for Experimental Ethnography (CEE), Africana Studies, and Gender, Sexuality, and Women’s Studies, to name a few ( Individual dissertation projects, more often than not, intersect with several of the above research areas, theoretical concerns, and related centers and/or certificate programs at Penn in the course of developing their unique research focus. Our recent graduates are currently employed at top institutions in the U.S. and abroad, including tenure-track appointments at Princeton and the University of Chicago, a post-doctoral fellowship at Yale, and a leadership position at a prestigious high school in South Africa.

The program’s broad intellectual purpose has always been to expose students to a wide range of methodological approaches at the intersection of the social sciences and humanistic inquiry. We continue to accomplish this goal by:

  • Supporting graduate student research through seminars on a wide range of topics. Recent courses have explored: Imagining Africa Musically; The Creole Archipelago: Sounding Decolonial Possibilities in the Caribbean; Musical Labor In and Beyond Capitalism; Trauma, the Arts, and/as Modes of Healing; Africana Thought in Musical Perspective; The Ontological Stakes of Music and Sound; Field Methods in Ethnomusicology; and Audio Ethnography.

  • Familiarizing students with core issues, problems, and concepts that drive the study of ethnomusicology at large via methodologically and historiographically rigorous training.

  • Attentive mentoring throughout the degree program, including guidance for securing funding, placing scholarship within professional venues, and effective writing practices.

  • Developing awareness of the importance of teaching, both in terms of helping graduate students develop their own classroom skills while at Penn, and encouraging them to define their own individual approach to teaching.   

  • Fostering research in performance studies through collaboration with Penn and Philadelphia area music ensembles, visual and performance artists, theater companies, and dance companies.

  • Encouraging research initiatives involving the digital humanities, in collaboration with Penn’s Price Digital Lab and the Penn Library system (mapping, data visualization, new possibilities for transcription).

  • Facilitating relationships across Penn’s vibrant intellectual community, via its working groups, research centers, and interdisciplinary programs and seminars.

The program at Penn is notable for producing scholarship that is innovative, driven by social and critical theory as well as philosophical inquiry, and ethically engaged in the challenges attendant to ethnography. The graduate program in Ethnomusicology serves students who intend to conduct cutting-edge research, produce high-quality scholarship, and develop teaching and professional skills in order to pursue academic positions in music studies; it also serves those who want to consider career opportunities beyond academia in both music and non-music domains.