History Beyond the Academy: Popular Music

Our series of Senior Seminar reflections on how people make meaning of the past outside the boundaries of professional or academic history continues, with Alissa Carsten (’13) and Josiah Gerhardt (’13) focusing on the use of history in popular music.

Music is one way that many normal (non-academics) people [ed. – Hey!] try to make sense of the past. This is often done in country music, especially some of the older songs. There are many examples of ballads that reflect upon earlier times as well as particular lives. These try to tell the audience a story of what occurred and make emotional connections. However, this type of approach is usually influenced greatly by the person’s own emotions and attitudes towards the past without giving a great deal of analysis to the pros and cons of the topic being mentioned. These types of songs usually are very sentimental and paint an overly simplified picture of a time period or individual. This type of history is in a narrative form, so it is entertaining and reaches a mass audience, but leave out information that is not relevant to the telling of the story.

The ballad in country music is one of the more common ways history is included in music, but there are also other genres of music that try to make sense of the past through their themes.

– Alissa Carsten

Music is a simple way for a story or an account to swiftly be heard by the masses…. Brad Paisley is a perfect example of a singer/songwriter engaging in history through song. His song “Accidental Racist” attempts to observe and dialogue about presuppositions about race and personal ideologies based on garb and demeanor. He engages the troubled history of Southern race relations as just a track on his latest album. In that way the perceived presuppositions can be addressed and worked past. He attempts to do it in a gritty way and hopes to better engage the everyday American simply because he presents it as a song.

– Josiah Gerhardt

<<Read the previous post in this series

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