Sounds American

National Identity and the Music Cultures of the Lower Mississippi River Valley, 1800-1860

By Ann Ostendorf

From The University of Georgia Press

272 / 6.0 x 9.0 / 2011

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Related Interest

Sounds American provides new perspectives on the relationship between nationalism and cultural production by examining how Americans grappled with musical diversity in the early national and antebellum eras. During this period a resounding call to create a distinctively American music culture emerged as a way to bind together the varied, changing, and uncertain components of the new nation. This played out with particular intensity in the lower Mississippi River valley, and New Orleans especially. Ann Ostendorf argues that this region, often considered an exception to the nation—with its distance from the center of power, its non-British colonial past, and its varied population—actually shared characteristics of many other places eventually incorporated into the country, thus making it a useful case study for the creation of American culture. Ostendorf conjures the territory’s phenomenally diverse “music ways” including grand operas and balls, performances by church choirs and militia bands, and itinerant violin instructors. Music was often associated with “foreigners,” in particular Germans, French, Irish, and Africans. For these outsiders, music helped preserve collective identity. But for critics concerned with developing a national culture, this multitude of influences presented a dilemma that led to an obsessive categorization of music with racial, ethnic, or national markers. Ultimately, the shared experience of categorizing difference and consuming this music became a unifying national phenomenon. Experiencing the unknown became a shared part of the American experience.

Reviews & Quotes

"Sounds American is an excellent study of the role of music in the formation of national identity on the southern borderlands in the early nineteenth century. I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book, and predict that it will interest a wide range of cultural historians of early America."
— Andrew McMichael, author of Atlantic Loyalties: Americans in Spanish West Florida, 1785-1810

"A much needed and deeply researched book. Ostendorf’s valuable study adds much to our understanding of the role music played in regional and national formation."
— Jeffrey H. Richards, author of Drama, Theatre, and Identity in the American New Republic

About Ann Ostendorf

Ann Ostendorf is an assistant professor of history at Gonzaga University. Learn More >>

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The Series

"The Early American Places series is an exciting development in scholarly publishing, one that will highlight the most important part of the study of history: the local and particular dimensions of global issues and trends. This is where the rubber meets the road, where ordinary people's lives help to make, and are made by, the bustling wider world in which they live. Early American Places is an original series, and it will publish important scholarship."

— Stephanie M. H. Camp, University of Washington