About Black Sound and the Archive

The Black Sound & the Archive Working Group at Yale University is a two-year initiative funded by a university grant designed to “support humanities programming, with an emphasis on teaching, intellectual life, and events that will attract visiting scholars from around the world.” The Black Sound & the Archive Working Group (BSAW) aims to explore the untapped variety of black sound archives—moving beyond the records, musical recordings, and oral histories traditionally showcased. We aim to broaden the very notion of a black sound archive by considering the relationship between the history and significance of African-American sonic practices in tandem with critical examination of the nature of archives.

The working group will bring together leading faculty, passionate and dedicated postdocs and graduate students, and a select group of undergraduates on a regular basis for presentations and discussions of their work, alongside lively, generative interaction with musicians and other artists from the world of popular music culture (e.g. jazz, roots Americana, hip hop, blues, rock, Broadway and beyond). We are looking to create an intellectual community where we can, collectively, broach the challenging issues involved in addressing black sound archives, learn from each other’s work, and develop strong foundations for further research.

We are especially excited about encouraging and supporting BSAW members to get their hands “dirty” while working closely with archival objects, collaborating with one another, and engaging with artists whose work has been shaped and inspired by archival material. We envision a series of dynamic conversations and collaborations between scholars and students, and our aim is three-fold: 1) To conduct workshop sessions that focus on analyzing and exploring a diverse range of archival sonic objects and performance texts so as to limn their interdisciplinary resonances; 2) To further develop innovative research skills designed to address and navigate the dialectics of obscurity and listening to the polyvalences of material cultural traces; 3) To engage expert practitioners in their aesthetic techniques and repertoires so as to hopefully generate new black sound archives for future scholarship.

We anticipate two years’ worth of activities that will highlight interactions with Yale librarians based on campus at the Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library, the Irving Gilmore Music Library, Historical Sound Recordings, and Yale’s Oral History of American Music. Some of our participants will be involved with end-of-the-year public programs (e.g. exhibitions and performances) engaged with and inspired by the archival material at these sites. Others will be involved in producing a special journal issue that presents our research.

Black Sound and the Archive is supported by Yale University’s 320 York Humanities Grant.