Alastair Williams reflects on writing Constructing Musicology…

9780754601340I am delighted to have been offered the opportunity to reflect on how Constructing Musicology has fared during the years. The idea for the volume came from my first book New Music and the Claims of Modernity (Ashgate 1997), in which I build on Adorno’s view of modernism in music. During the 1990s, there was a surge of interest from English-language musicology in Adorno’s writings on music, since they focus squarely on meaning and subjectivity – areas that had been neglected by the positivist musicology of previous decades. So I was able to develop this tendency and to link it to a growing awareness of the resources that a broader range of literary and critical theory could bring to musicology. My intention in writing the book was to provide a guide to how musicology was absorbing critical theory, while demonstrating the wider importance of the theories being used.

In particular, I was keen to demonstrate that these theories have significance beyond the confines of postmodernism. And this aspect of the book has certainly proved to be prescient, because the once ubiquitous postmodernism is now an historical phenomenon. This is partly because terms such as ‘intertextuality’ and ‘deconstruction’ have become so commonplace that they do not require a larger framework, and partly because postmodernism turned out to be more an expansion of previous views than their antithesis. Beyond the postmodernism debate, critical theory has remained an important resource for musicology, but with growing familiarity (which the book has facilitated) it no longer seems so different. What, however, has remained is my argument that critical theory is democratic, because it facilitates the understanding of music from more than one perspective.

Another topic that the book addresses, from a theoretical perspective, is the widening repertoire that is increasingly being considered by musicology. Notably, the volume looks at the field of popular music, showing how identity is constructed by a struggle between authenticity and mobility, and between production and reception. On the flip side of the coin, the reduced cultural prestige of classical music has taken place at a time when there are increasingly diverse ways of encountering it, through a variety of media such as film, TV, radio and internet. Debates about identity in popular music have expanded since my book was published, just as there is now increasing significance attached to the ways in which classical music can connect with modern life.

There has been consistent interest in Constructing Musicology ever since it was published, from students and professionals alike, and readers have generally fallen into two camps. The first of these is readers who are seeking some assistance with what can be the bewildering terminology of critical theory, and are grateful to receive some help. The second group of readers is one that values my argument for its willingness to use critical theory to push beyond the postmodern consensus and for its insistence on understanding music in terms of subjectivity. In addition, there are readers from both camps who use the volume as what Professor Nicholas Cook has called a ‘Rough Guide to a changing discipline’. Published in 2001 Constructing Musicology has managed both to reflect on the achievements of the 1990s and to set the tone for the following decades.



williams_alastairAlastair Williams is Reader in Music at Keele University, UK. He has research interests in modernism and modernity, Austro-German music, critical theory, and subjectivity in music. He is the author of New Music and the Claims of Modernity (Ashgate, 1997), Constructing Musicology (Ashgate, 2001), and Music in Germany since 1968 (Cambridge, 2013), and a contributor to The Cambridge History of Twentieth-Century Music (2004). He has also published articles in a wide range of music journals. He has received funding from the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation, the British Academy and the Arts and Humanities Research Council.

British Generals in Blair’s Wars – a guest post from Jonathan Bailey

This is a guest post from Jonathan Bailey, editor (with Richard Iron and Hew Strachan) of British Generals in Blair’s Wars


As the Cold War was ending, the British Army ‘discovered’ the Operational level of war, and officers at all levels were encouraged to study, think creatively and discuss their profession in a way that had perhaps not been seen, or even encouraged, for many years. I was associated with those efforts in various posts for 9 years between 1989 and 2005. I became convinced that an Army which thought about its profession was better placed to succeed than one which did not. I remembered Richard Holmes quoting a senior French general of the late 19th Century, “Any officer who publishes anything is guilty of an act of mutiny”. Students on the Higher Command and Staff Course (HCSC) smiled, knowing that today’s British Army was a very different institution.

From 2002 to 2005, when I left the Army, I was the Director General Development and Doctrine, responsible for generating much of the British Army’s doctrine and its lessons learned system. That said, I came to understand that my ability to do this was limited by the authority of the new Joint doctrine organization and the decision to conduct lessons learned from current campaigns, elsewhere. Nevertheless, I was in a good position to follow those operations and to debrief those who had commanded on them. This generation of commanders was precisely that which had first attended the HCSC, about a decade earlier, and it was fascinating to see how the structure of their understanding of their own experiences was coloured by that education.

On leaving the British Army, I retained an interest in the subject and proposed to Professor Hew Strachan that I might run a seminar series at All Souls College, Oxford, as part of his Changing Character of War Programme. The latter took a multi-disciplinary approach, encompassing International Relations, Ethics and Law. It seemed to me that it would be appropriate to match this with a study of the changing practice of war, as it was unfolding in two campaigns, through the eyes of those I knew well and who now bore command responsibilities for those operations. When the seminar series began, there was little expectation that these campaigns would last for a decade, or that the issues arising would be so profound and anguished.

I am heavily indebted to Hew for agreeing to support these seminars, all in keeping with his college’s mission to meld academia with public service. Hew’s credentials as the country’s leading authority on strategy and his enduring support to the MOD on a wide range of military matters made him the ideal person to exercise academic oversight over the seminars.

British Generals in Blairs WarsBrigadier Richard Iron and I had worked together for many years, and I know of nobody else whose knowledge and personality is so suited to the study of conflict in dangerous regions of the world, and who is so adept at identifying key factors and producing new and pragmatic doctrine. When he left the Army, he kindly agreed to join Hew and myself to turn the seminar papers into an edited book, fit for publication. In fact, Richard did all of the heavy-lifting, as well as writing a tremendous chapter on his own experiences in Iraq.

It was gratifying that so many reviews and other comment were positive, valuing this input of diverse primary source material. Some, however, seemed wide of the mark. One reviewer detected an underlying theme, and while chapters may be linked by subject, the contributions were written individually over 6 years with no author being permitted to review their piece with hindsight. Typically an officer, just home from his six- or twelve-month tour, would be pestered by me to speak, just when his thoughts were probably about getting away with his family on well-earned leave. Despite that, a number noted that the seminars had been very worthwhile personally, committing them to analyse what they had just experienced.

While the focus of this collection (and of the HCSC seminars) was on command in theatre, one reviewer noted the omission of material about senior command back in the UK. Happily a study of senior military command in the UK, in PJHQ and the MOD has been undertaken in a brilliant and original book, High Command, by my former colleague Christopher Elliott. His sympathetic yet penetrating study is one which I wish I had written.

A difficult issue at the time of publication was the MOD’s decision not to permit serving officers to contribute to it, even though the editors and publisher were ready to launch. This caused a major delay to publication and became an interesting topic for debate in its own right. Why did the MOD object to serving officers contributing? The right of the MOD to withhold permission for serving personnel to publish is well established, and it was quietly accepted, although it came as a cultural surprise. That said, one senior author, cut from the book, did urge ‘publish and be damned’. This was, after all, the generation educated to value independent thought and the value of professional military education.

The MOD’s decision seemed inconsistent: Security concerns were cited, but the contributors would be among the last people ever to compromise UK security; and that could not really have been the issue as the contributions to the book could be published immediately on the author’s retirement. One contribution had essentially been published some years earlier in a well-known defence journal, having been cleared by the MOD. Most of the material in the book had already been cleared incrementally by the MOD as serving officers prepared for their seminars. What seemed to have changed was the political direction, and it was noted that from about the time of publication officers found far greater restrictions imposed on their participation in Defence conferences.

One of the strengths of Britain’s Defence establishment is the plethora of think-tanks, institutes, and journals, based mainly in London. It became somewhat troubling that the contributions of expert practitioners should be so diminished in the public debate about Defence. Engaging the public in a sustained study of the military profession is an important element of military–civil relations in a democracy. There is a danger that a serious attempt to pursue professional study and education in the national interest can become caught up in an entirely different dynamic, that of immediate news management by the government of the day.

This has not always been the case, and there are many examples of broad-minded Secretaries of State who have taken a more indulgent and enlightened approach, in some cases because of their own genuine interest in military affairs. Happily, as Robin Day once observed, the reign of ministers is short lived.


About the author: Jonathan Bailey’s last appointment in the British Army before he retired in 2005 was Director General Development and Doctrine. He served in Northern Ireland, commanded Assembly Place ROMEO in Rhodesia in 1979-80; was Operations Officer 4th Field Regiment RA during the Falklands War; and in 1999 was KFOR’s Chief Liaison Officer to the Yugoslav General Staff and to the Kosovo Liberation Army. He has written several books and articles on defence and strategic themes. Since 2005 he has worked in the defence industry, and led the seminar series on Campaigning and Generalship, at the University of Oxford.

Mary Natvig on Teaching Music History

This is a guest post from Mary Natvig, author of Teaching Music History


Teaching Music HistoryI am honored and delighted that Ashgate has selected my 2002 essay collection, Teaching Music History, as one of its works that has made the most significant impact on the author’s field.

Considering the long-term effects of its publication, the genesis of Teaching Music History is comparatively paradoxical. It was not the result of calculated thought or scholarly introspection. The idea came in a flash—an impulse that once voiced, was impossible to take back. Early in my career, I attended an evening session on “Diversity in the Classroom” at the 1996 annual meeting of the American Musicological Society in Baltimore, MD. As I listened to the panelists, I was suddenly inspired and motivated to do something about the lack of pedagogical writing for those who teach music history and music appreciation. Most of us who become musicologists end up teaching; and most of us spend much of, or most of, our time on that activity. The semester before, I had just received my first smattering of “bad” teaching evaluations. After several years as a TA, an instructor, and as a young professor with very good evals, I wondered what had gone wrong. So during the session’s Q&A, I stood up and announced that I was editing a collection of essays called Teaching Music History, and anyone who would be interested in contributing should see me. At that point I had been editing the collection (in my imagination) for about five minutes—fueled by a scholarly intoxication (that only a conference can produce) and hubris (that only inexperience can excuse). By the end of the meeting I had four or five contributors and sobriety set in; I was now the self-appointed editor of a collection of essays on music history teaching, a project that no one had ever attempted and one that I had no idea how to get published.

Perhaps the above anecdote explains why I’m still slightly bemused when I hear the book cited as the beginning of a “movement,” or as Ashgate has deemed it, “having made the most impact in the field.” Of course I am honored beyond belief, but I am more delighted that the collection has sparked a discourse among musicologists that teaching is a topic to be discussed out loud and in print. Although several in our field had written previously on pedagogical issues (mostly in College Music Symposium), the publication of Teaching Music History in 2002 created something like a communal “happening” that attracted others to go public with their ideas and activities concerning pedagogy. The year after the book was published Kathryn Lowerre organized the first and now annual conference called “Teaching Music History Day.” Soon after (in 2005), Jessie Fillerup, Peter Burkholder, Alice Clark, and Jim Briscoe spearheaded the formation of the American Musicological Society’s Pedagogy Study Group, leading to regular pedagogy sessions at that society’s Annual Meeting and eventually to a prize, sponsored by the AMS, for innovative teaching projects. Matthew Balensuela founded the Journal of Music History Pedagogy in 2010 and Jim Briscoe published the second collection of essays that same year (Vitalizing Music History Teaching). Two years later Jim Davis’s The Music History Classroom appeared. This is just the tip of the iceberg. So many scholars have been involved in delivering papers, publishing articles, and organizing conferences, that music history pedagogy is now “a thing.”* Who knew? And who could have predicted that in 2013 the venerable American Musicological Society would change its Object statement—for the first time in history—to include a reference to teaching alongside its traditional mission of promoting and supporting musicological research.

Many scholars, in addition to the ones named above, took part in the transformation of “music history pedagogy” from quiet, after hours discussions in conference bars to public sessions, a journal, and new publications, but the fourteen contributors to Teaching Music History, some of whom were my own marvelous mentors and all of whom entered the project with expertise and enthusiasm deserve mention here: Maria Archetto, Noël Bisson, J. Peter Burkholder, Susan C. Cook, Vincent Corrigan, Robert Fink, Carol Hess, Mary Hunter, Ralph P. Locke, Patrick Macey, Russell E. Murray, Kenneth Nott, Michael Pisani, Marjorie Roth, and Pamela Starr. Thank you all, and thank you to Ashgate Publishing for taking a chance on a new idea.

*For more on the twenty-first century music history pedagogy movement, see Scott Dirkse’s recent dissertation, Music History Pedagogy in the Twentieth-First Century:The Pedagogy Movement in American Musicology (UC Santa Barbara).


Mary Natvig is Professor of Musicology and Assistant Dean of Undergraduate Studies at the College of Musical Arts, Bowling Green State University. Her areas of research are: the sacred music of the 15th century, music and social reform, and music history pedagogy. She is the author of Teaching Music History (Ashgate, 2002) and co-author with Steven Cornelius of Music: A Social Experience (Pearson/Prentice Hall, 2011).

What is the most popular activity in the UK? The answer may surprise you…

Going to church? Going to the cinema? Watching the football?

Visiting Libraries is the most popular activity in the UK

It is probably safe to say that Libraries have been in the news constantly over the last couple of years, but for all the wrong reasons… funding cuts, closures etc. So it is great to see some positive news coming from one of my favourite bloggers Ned Potter.

When someone tells you libraries are no longer relevant in the digital age, think again, and keep these stats in mind, that’s 536 visits per minute, just while you were reading this post.

At Ashgate we have always believed that libraries have a strong healthy future, which is one of the reasons why we are so proud of the library and information management books we publish. Here are some recent highlights or view our latest catalogue here.

PPCspine22mmDeveloping Community-Led Public Libraries by John Pateman and Ken Williment

‘If the Minister for Libraries seeks clarification on what exactly constitutes a comprehensive and efficient service he need look no further than this excellent book’ CILIP Update

View an extract here.

Pateman & Vincent casePublic Libraries and Social Justice by John Pateman and John Vincent

a well-researched and compelling account which should play an important role in the ongoing debate about the role and contribution of the public library service.’ CILIP Update

Pick up a copy here.

PPCspine22mmReading Groups, Libraries and Social Inclusion by Eileen Hyder

‘a welcome contribution to the growing body of qualitative and quantitative knowledge about blind people’s reading habits’

Publishing History

Look inside the book.

Linking Literacy PPC_AsselinLinking Literacy and Libraries in Global Communities by Marlene Asselin and Ray Doiron

‘a positive and inspiring contribution to the promotion of the value of libraries in building globally literate communities.’ Australian Library Journal

Purchase a copy

From Museum Critique to the Critical Museum – a round table discussion

Posted by Helen Moore, Marketing Manager

Ashgate author Katarzyna Murawska-Muthesius will be chairing a Round table discussion on 9th September 2015 at POLIN Museum of the History of Polish Jews, Warsaw on the subject of her new book From Museum Critique to the Critical Museum.

From museum critique to the critical museumSince the late nineteenth century museums have been seen as agents of imperialism and colonialism, strongholds of patriarchalism, masculinism, homophobia and xenophobia, and accused both of elitism and commercialism. What can we therefore do to transform museums into places of open, critical discussion, actively supporting social change?

These are the issues tackled in the book From Museum Critique to the Critical Museum, edited by Piotr Piotrowski and Katarzyna Murawska-Muthesius (Ashgate, 2015). The Round Table with contributors to the book and art critics at POLIN Museum will be an opportunity to reflect on how museums can get involved in public debates on the most important and controversial topics relevant to today’s society.

The meeting will be dedicated to the memory of Prof. Piotr Piotrowski, one of the editors of From Museum Critique to the Critical Museum and creator of the concept of the Critical Museum. Piotr Piotrowski was a professor at Adam Mickiewicz University in Poznań, Poland, visiting professor at many foreign universities, and Director of the National Museum in Warsaw.

Participants of the Round Table include:

  • Jacob Birken – writer and curator, research assistant at the Visual Arts Department, Kunsthochschule Kassel
  • Barbara Kirshenblatt-Gimblett – Chief Curator of POLIN Museum’s core exhibition, University Professor Emerita and Professor Emerita of Performance Studies at New York University
  • John Onians – Professor Emeritus in the School of Art History and World Art Studies, University of East Anglia
  • Alpesh Patel – art critic and curator, Assistant Professor of contemporary art and theory at Florida International University in Miami
  • Jarosław Suchan – art historian and critic, curator, Director of Muzeum Sztuki w Łodzi
  • Ewa Toniak – curator, historian, and art critic, pioneer of feminist critique in Poland
  • Krzysztof Żwirblis – artist and curator, initiator of artistic projects carried out in cooperation with local communities

Admission is free and the discussion will be held in Polish and English (simultaneous translation).

More information about the round table discussion

Ashraf Salama interviewed about education and architecture

9781472422873.PPC_Layout 1Ashraf Salama is Chair Professor in Architecture and Head of Architecture at the University of Strathclyde, Glasgow, UK and the author of Spatial Design Education which we published in March 2015.

His book is already receiving excellent reviews …

‘… Salama creates the convincing argument for pedagogical change and then systematically evaluates examples of current evolving paradigms that are making that change happen. If you want to be part of that change then this book should be your guide.’

Jeffrey Haase, The Ohio State University, USA

Last month Ashraf was interviewed for The Arch.Ed.Podcast, where he reveals more about the book,  education and architecture and provides some insight into his own personal experiences. You can listen to the full interview at

Neil Christie – ‘From Constantine to Charlemagne’ & ‘Urbes Extinctae’

Posted by David Cota, Senior Marketing Coordinator

Neil ChristieNeil Christie is a long established scholar of late antique and early medieval archaeology, with a geographic focus centred on Italy, but with a much broader field of interest – which has included heading a major archeological project centred on the urban heritage of Wallingford in south Oxfordshire (a late 9th-century burh of King Alfred the Great and a favoured royal seat from Norman times). Here he talks of two of the volumes that he has published with Ashgate in the last decade.


Sometimes it is easy to identify when the idea of a book first took root. Books can be generated direct from a PhD/DPhil thesis – in a process often surprisingly quick after the three or more years of building the doctoral edifice – or from a funded research project which has as its ultimate output a monograph; or a book can gather its own form from the accumulation of ideas generated by an array of articles; or your departmental appraiser or head of department will tell you firmly that you’ve a book to write for the next UK University REF exercise.

My titles have come from a variety of sources: the 2006 From Constantine to Charlemagne volume might owe a few elements to my (long unpublished and far too out of date now anyway) PhD and draws on excavations attended and visited since my doctoral days, but largely belongs to an early lecture course at the University of Leicester where I explored themes related to late Roman and early medieval Italy, tackling the archaeological and historical trajectories of cities like Rome and Brescia, questioning the fate of villas and the spread of monasteries, and looking at the impact of new powers such as the Ostrogoths and the Lombards on society and landscape. Realising that all the articles and books in Italian, French and German that I had read were largely beyond my students and seeing the relative dearth of work in English on the period became the prompt to think out the book. From Constantine to CharlemagneBut it was no stallion charging from the starting gates; rather, my beast of burden took plenty of time to graze while other tasks kept me from taking up that particular saddle. When I did take up the challenge the scale had grown – the fences to jump for my academic horse were Grand National-like in terms of researching to sufficient depth in what was and is an ever-growing field. Indeed, as is obvious from scanning through Ashgate’s rich collection of titles, the Late Antique, Byzantine and early medieval epochs are busy with scholars from architectural historians to zooarchaeologists; and Italy in particular has been an extremely active scholarly landscape for AD 500-1000 in the last couple of decades. The task then is getting around the course in fair time, to good effect, showing your rivals your horse is worthwhile, well read and fed, aware of pitfalls, and able to show some new tricks too. And – equally important – is the need to finish the course in good time and not to take too many extra laps. As many an author knows, the finishing is nearly always a bit further than anticipated after the early charge from the gates (doubling the estimate for book delivery from 2 years to 4 is often realistic!)…

From Constantine to Charlemagne is weighty, but, I hope, full and informed and a volume which serves to introduce many to the multiple and varied sources, sites, materials and debates in Italian archaeology for a crucial and challenging timespan. Issues raised in any archaeological work will always be tested by new finds – and some fascinating new excavations have indeed occurred since the book was published – but I feel that my book has helped to stimulate some of the revised debates.

The same goes for the more recent Vrbes Extinctae volume (2012, co-edited by myself and Andrea Augenti), which has received some excellent reviews. Urbes extinctaeWhat we aimed for there was to open a wider field: we can come out with some bland statements sometimes about the demise of classical towns and how archaeology offers insights into this decay, but examples are stale, and so this volume hunted out (largely) active projects and really tried to interrogate them. Each town can be seen as individual in its content, responses, and transformations in the late and post-classical period and giving these voice is crucial. Similarly, we wanted to detail ‘afterlives’ to show that populations did often persist at these sites even as their urban attributes fail; en route, however, we can observe changing attitudes by those people towards the surrounding decay. And the ways we study these places is important: while methods of investigation – open area excavation, remote-sensing, etc. – are evolving and improving, and generating vital data, such new evidence makes us ever more aware of just how much evidence has been removed and destroyed by previous excavators whose focus did not include the often fragile or jumbled post-classical strata. This book too had no straightforward birth: it emerged from a funded EU project that saw archaeologists from four institutions in four different countries (Italy, Spain, Hungary, England) excavating at an early medieval church at the former urban site of Classe near Ravenna in NE Italy; some workshops were arranged to raise questions related to Classe and the Leicester session chose to think more broadly about urban loss in antiquity. Producing a book from the event was a later idea: only a few of the papers presented at Leicester joined the volume; others were commissioned to ensure a wider geographical spread and to use examples of Roman-period loss, Islamic-period decay, sites that breathed urban life only briefly, sites hit by war, and some that just faded.

And like all good edited volumes the Vrbes Extinctae venture has opened up collaborations (actual, planned or potential), contacts and sharing of ideas which, I hope, will lead onto further explorations of Late Antiquity.


From Constantine to Charlemagne was identified by our editors as having played a significant part in the building and reputation of our publishing programme. To see the full list of titles chosen by our editors visit, History Editors’ Choices.