In Discipline: Talks from the European Side

For this week’s In Discipline post, we are very happy to introduce Stephen Millar, a PhD student from Queen’s University Belfast. Thank you for sharing your thoughts and experiences with us, Stephen.

Stephen Millar


What is your academic history? Where have you studied ethnomusicology? What topics does your current work address?

I hold separate degrees in Music and Politics, from the University of Glasgow and the University of Strathclyde, an M.Phil. in Music Studies, from the University of Cambridge, and am currently studying for a Ph.D. in Ethnomusicology at Queen’s University Belfast. I was born and brought up in Glasgow and my deciding to move to Northern Ireland was a direct result of my research interests—my Ph.D. being a comparative study of Irish rebel music in Belfast and Glasgow.

My thesis concerns itself with how people in Belfast and Glasgow use Irish rebel music as a form of multimodal resistance within and against the British state. It considers the role such music plays in the embodiment of a social identity and how this contrasts with other identities in the two cities.



Can you tell us about ethnomusicology in your academic world?

At Queen’s, Ethnomusicology can be studied in two departments: Music and Social Anthropology. While Queen’s is fortunate enough to have Ethnomusicology in two departments, with many institutions struggling to have it in one (!), the Music and Social Anthropology departments are housed in two separate ‘Schools’: ‘Creative Arts’ and ‘History and Anthropology’. I cannot comment on how this functions at an undergraduate level, having studied elsewhere, but at a graduate level it often means that students in one department/School are not updated with events in the other.

Music performance is an optional part of the program and fieldwork is taught as part of the course load at both graduate and undergraduate level. As in most UK universities, there is no additional language requirement.

The main journals in the UK and Ireland, which produce ethnomusicological research, are Ethnomusicology Forum, Ethnomusicology Ireland, the Journal of the Royal Musical Association, the Irish Journal of Anthropology, and the journal of World Popular Music.

The main associations for ethnomusicologists in the UK and Ireland are: the British Forum for Ethnomusicology (BFE), the Irish National Committee of the International Council for Traditional Music (ICTM), the International Association for the Study of Popular Music (IASPM) UK and Ireland Branch, the Royal Musical Association (RMA), and the Society for Musicology in Ireland (SMI).



Have you felt any pressure to produce articles for publication? How do you access bibliographic resources for your research? Are there any outlets for students to participate in decision-making processes?

As a graduate student at Queen’s, there is no pressure to produce any articles for publication, this being decided by the student and their supervisor.  The university library is reasonably well equipped with ethnomusicological texts; those it doesn’t stock can be easily accessed via interlibrary loan.  Students can participate in decision-making processes within their department/School by acting as student representative for their year group, or by making their opinions/feelings known to said representative.



What was/has been your experience in terms of funding?

I was awarded a doctoral studentship from the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC), which covers my fees and pays me a monthly stipend. I have also been able to apply for financial assistance to attend conferences. At present, the Music department at Queen’s only has one ethnomusicologist within the faculty. While I would like to see more, this is offset by there being two ethnomusicologists in the Social Anthropology department.

University fees are consistent with those across the UK, yet Queen’s has several scholarships on offer. These are awarded from the UK funding councils, like mine, as well as by the Northern Ireland Government. The latter are issued by the Northern Ireland Assembly’s Department for Education and Learning (DEL), covering fees and maintenance.

I chose to base myself in Belfast so that I could immerse myself in the field. As such, I did not have to pay for a separate year of fieldwork and do not keep track of the expenses incurred as many ethnomusicologists might do.



Is there frequent communication among European-based ethnomusicologists?

The only communication I have with European ethnomusicologists is with those I meet through international conferences. I believe there is an international doctoral workshop in ethnomusicology, held at the University of Hildesheim each year, and think such opportunities present the best chance to exchange ideas and methodologies with emerging scholars.



I am hopeful for the future of Ethnomusicology at Queen’s. John Blacking is often regarded as one of the founding fathers of the discipline, in the UK and Europe, and so I would like to think that, as he was based at Queen’s for most of his professional life, the university will strive to continue his legacy.

After graduating, I hope to pursue postdoctoral research on the music and politics of the Irish diaspora in England and the United States. I believe this would compliment the work I am doing on the politics of music in Belfast and Glasgow, and its role in the formation and performance of identity.



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