CANCELLED: Rachel Mundy, “Song at the End of Modernity”
April 6 @ 1:00 pm - 2:30 pm
Note: This event has been cancelled due to concerns regarding the coronavirus outbreak.
Rachel Mundy (Rutgers University)
John James Audubon’s Birds of America, printed between 1827 and 1838, is understood as being about what Audubon called the birds of “our country,” the United States. Yet like Audubon himself, who was born in Haiti in 1785 before moving northward, the most vocal birds in Audubon’s book migrated regularly across national borders. Today, the same birds are changing their habits to accommodate warming temperatures and human urbanization that transcend notions of national and natural borders.
I begin this paper with Audubon’s description of the song of the Northern Mockingbird, and follow that song through a complex heritage of mixed and migrant identities. As the official state bird of Arkansas, Florida, Mississippi, Tennessee, and Texas, the mockingbird is, like Audubon, a beloved icon of natural masculinity within the United States. The bird, however, is common in Latin America and occasionally migrates as far north as Toronto. Ornithologists predict that within fifty years, the birds’ songs will become a familiar part of southeast Canada’s natural soundscape. By examining more closely the stories we tell about Audubon’s ears and mockingbirds’ songs, I seek to offer ways of thinking beyond the fixed borders that limit our ability to imagine moving voices and animal bodies.
Rachel Mundy is an Assistant Professor of Music in the Arts, Culture, & Media program at Rutgers University in Newark. She specializes in twentieth-century music at the juncture of sound studies, the history of science, and animal studies. Her book Animal Musicalities traces histories of modern sound through comparisons between animal and human musicality, drawing on the history of biology, anthropology, psychology, and comparative musicology. Her current research explores the place of animal voices in modern narratives of environmental crisis.