January 2021

Seminar in the Anthropology of Music: Voice

Listed in: Anthropology and Sociology, as ANTH-449  |  Music, as MUSI-449

Moodle site: Course


Jeffers L. Engelhardt (Section 01J)


This seminar explores the sound and significance of the human voice in broad perspective. What do we communicate with our voice? Why are certain voices powerful or unforgettable? How are voices culturally shaped and constrained? How do people use their voice along the continuum between speech and song? What happens when the voice turns text into sound? What does it mean in terms of politics and personhood to have a voice? How does vocal sound relate to knowledge of the body and ideas about race, gender, and identity? To engage these questions, we will begin by examining the classic premise that the voice is a sonic medium for music, language, and other forms of communicative expression whose production (singing, speaking, vocalizing) and uptake (listening, recognizing, empathizing) are basic to social life and inhabiting one's environment. Throughout the term, we will push this premise in critical new directions by remembering that song and language affect us because the voice is not merely a medium. What Roland Barthes famously describes as "the grain of the voice" is its profound, compelling sonic presence beyond its role as a medium. Thinking about the significance of vocal sound and timbre in this light, we will explore a host of voices and vocal styles from throughout the world, including how we use our own creatively, in performance, and relative to the constraints of a voice-impacting global pandemic. We will listen and read widely, benefiting from each others' experience and insights as well as those of singers and scholars who will join us. Fulfills either the departmental seminar requirement or the comprehensive exam requirement for the major.

January term. Professor Engelhardt. Hyflex format with as much face-to-face learning as possible. Online elements of the course will be conducted via Zoom and the course website.


Attention to Issues of Gender and Sexuality, Attention to Issues of Race, Attention to Issues of Social Justice, Attention to Research, Online Only


2022-23: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Spring 2017, Spring 2018, January 2021