Fellows Forum - Jefferson & Scottish Folk Music
Join Kirsten Paine, PhD Candidate in English, University of Pittsburgh, for Jefferson and Scottish Folk Music: Transatlantic Highland and Lowland Connections in Eighteenth-Century America.
This project uses pieces of Scottish folk music to ground an inquiry in which eighteenth-century music and literary culture coalesce around a politicized nation-building endeavor and why such music became part of Thomas Jefferson's carefully acquired collection. As music and lyrics have the ability to shape, color, and texturize a soundscape in its immediacy, eighteenth and early nineteenth century social, cultural, and political conditions invest the inevitable silence with more than empty space. From folk tunes like "My Nanie O," "Gathering of the Clans, "Hurrah for the Bonnets of Blue," "Wha'll Be King But Charlie," and "Draw the Sword Scotland," to examples of Robert Burns' poetry set to music, this part of Jefferson's varied collection takes an interesting shape. Given the prevalence of and interest in Scots culture in the early American republic, these particular songs speak to a revolutionary consciousness and popularized political sensibility focusing on transatlantic aspects of nation-building. The public and private social spaces in which these pieces were likely performed galvanize a sense of unity, of shared purpose, and of common interest beyond entertainment alone.
The songs' lyrics and their meaning as part of a larger body of literature need reinvestment in the complexities of early Scottish nationalist sentiment and the movement's reverberation in the Atlantic world. From there, locating the music as an act of creating of space within a nascent American consciousness imagines the potential for non-visual art in establishing a direct call to popular sentiment and a response in Thomas Jefferson's own revolutionary ethics. Finally, the transatlantic passageways between Scotland, colonial America, and the early U.S. republic, generate ways for thinking about how Jefferson viewed cultural and literary production as an important connective thread. Above all else, this music is folk music, played by people who lived in and traveled through the mountain ranges east of the Mississippi river-people who never met Jefferson yet participated with him in a critical moment of exchange.