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U-M Humanities Institute National Edowment for the Humanities Fellow, associate professor of music
“O Say Can You Hear?: A Cultural Biography of the United States National Anthem”
This book project explores the transformation of a topical patriotic lyric—Francis Scott Key’s “The Defense of Fort McHenry” (1814)—into the sacred hymn of the United States. I argue that the 1931 Congressional act that made Key’s song the nation’s anthem was less legislative creativity than simple recognition of a status “The Star-Spangled Banner” had long achieved through performance. As an emotionally potent answer to questions of national identity, the Banner has provided a vehicle for artists to express their interpretation of the nature of citizenship at critical junctures in the country’s history, such as the Battle of Baltimore, the Civil War, the bombing of Pearl Harbor, and Woodstock. The song thus serves as a performative witness to history, enacting collective understandings not only of what it means to sing the anthem, but what it means to give voice to democracy in the twenty-first century.
Institute for the Humanities
Thayer Academic BuildingSuite 1111202 S. Thayer Street
Ann Arbor, MI