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The Archive of the Archive: The Ethics of Ownership and Repatriation of Indigenous Field Recordings

April 4th, 2016
12:00 PM


Banner image:  The National Archive. 'Victrola Portable Player.' 1920s.

Monday, April 4, 2016

Forum for Scholars and Publics (Old Chem 011)

12:00 p.m. - 1:15 p.m.

Light lunch served at 11:45

Aaron Fox will untangle the complex history of the Laura Boulton Collection of Traditional and Liturgical Music, a collection of 1500 hours of music collected on five continents, which was acquired by Columbia University beginning in 1962. Professor Fox explores a “trail of legal agreements, memoranda, correspondence, and contracts that mark the history of the `Laura Boulton Collection’s’ acquisition by Columbia University as intellectual and physical property and the subsequent distribution and management of the associated rights by Columbia, Indiana University, and the Library of Congress.”  Professor Fox will talk about the extraction of the musical heritage of indigenous people and his work to repatriate this music to its ancestral homes.

Professor Fox’s visit has been arranged in conjunction with the NC Jukebox project, which explores the Frank Clyde Brown collection of musical field recordings from the 1920s and 30s in Western NC. An interdisciplinary team from Duke, UNC, and the Orchards at Alta Pass is exploring the recordings, researching the singers and songs, and representing them to the public through exhibitions at Rubenstein Library, in Western NC, and online. NC Jukebox is a Bass Connections: Information, Society & Culture project led by Trudi Abel, Duke Libraries, and Victoria Szabo, Art, Art History & Visual Studies, and is co-sponsored by the Kenan Institute for Ethics and the Franklin Humanities Institute and Information Science + Studies. 

Aaron Fox

Columbia University

Aaron Fox came to Columbia in 1997. He holds the PhD in Social Anthropology from the University of Texas at Austin (1995), and the AB in Music from Harvard College. Aaron's work has broadly focused on language/music relationships, working-class and popular culture, music and social identity, issues of place and subjectivity, ethnographic methodology, and semiotics and poetics. 

In recent years Aaron has focused on issues of cultural and intellectual property and the repatriation of Native American cultural resources, as part of a broader interest in cultural survival and sustainability and music-centered community activism. He is currently working with Dr. Chie Sakakibara (Lecturer in American Indian Studies, University of Oklahoma) on a "community partnered repatriation" of traditional music recordings made by Laura Boulton in 1946, with the Iñupiat community of Alaska's North Slope.  This project is supported by the National Science Foundation's Arctic Social Sciences Program. He is involved in other repatriation projects in development with the Navajo and Hopi tribes and with an Appalachian music collection.

At Columbia, Aaron teaches courses entitled "Music and Language," "Music and Property," "Country Music," "Social Theory and the Arts," "Field Research Methods," "Music in Contemporary Native America" and "Archiving Practice." He also teaches the graduate proseminars in ethnomusicology, and the graduate and undergraduate field methods courses.

Aaron has served as a past Councilor for the Society for Ethnomusicology, and as a Board member for the American Ethnological Society. He was Chair of the Department of Music from 2008-2011. From 2003-2008, he was Director of the Center for Ethnomusicology, a position he assumed again in 2015. Aaron's book, Real Country: Music and Language in Working-Class Culture, was published by Duke University Press in 2004.