Award Information

International Dissertation Research Fellowship 2019
Institutional Affiliation (at time of award):
Recording Industry and Radio in the Arabian Peninsula: Cultural Mediation on Indian Ocean Networks c. 1890s - 1960s

Combining the fields of ethnomusicology and history, this dissertation examines the cultural role and impact of the gramophone and radio throughout the Arabian Peninsula during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. It does so by by following three lines of inquiry: 1) exploring the "sound cultures" that early gramophone and radio became embedded within and subsequently altered; 2) outlining the development of the region's commercial recording industry on Indian Ocean networks; and 3) examining the role of record industry and radio in an era of rising pan-Arab nationalism during the mid-twentieth century. The study will focus primarily on coastal urban centers of the Peninsula and particularly Jeddah, Aden, Bahrain, and Kuwait, including their connections with littoral regions around the Indian Ocean. The dissertation will begin examining early Islamic fatwas drafted by scholars from the Peninsula debating the appropriateness of the phonograph and gramophone. These fatwas index the way cultures of sound negotiating the relationship between music, technology, and the human voice, were formed in Muslim societies throughout the region during this time. Next, the study will move into an examination of recorded musical repertoires, musicians, and company owners that circulated between the coasts of the Peninsula and the Indian Ocean world. Using primary sources such as 78 rpm records, early advertisements, and catalogues, the dissertation will highlight how early record industry throughout the region adapted itself to colonial, religious, and subaltern networks of exchange, arguably forming what many have referred to as Indian Ocean cosmopolitanism. Finally, the study will examine how this cosmopolitanism came under scrutiny and shifted during the rise of Arab nationalism, which invoked earlier Islamic debates about the appropriateness of mediated performance and also notions of "authentic" Arab national tradition.