IU ethnomusicology professor receives two top honors for his research on music in Palestinian territories

  • Nov. 18, 2014


BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- David McDonald, director of the Ethnomusicology Institute in the College of Arts and Sciences at Indiana University, has received two of his field's top honors for excellence in folklore and ethnomusicology scholarship.

McDonald, also an associate professor of folklore and ethnomusicology, received the Chicago Folklore Prize, presented by the American Folklore Society during its annual meetings Nov. 5 to 8 in Santa Fe, N.M. Also presented by the University of Chicago, it goes to authors of the best book-length work for folklore scholarship of the year.

He received the award for his book, "My Voice Is My Weapon: Music, Nationalism, and the Poetics of Palestinian Resistance" (Duke University Press).

McDonald also received the Jaap Kunst Prize from the Society for Ethnomusicology during its conference Nov. 13 to 16 in Pittsburgh. That award recognizes the most significant article in the field of ethnomusicology for 2013 and was given for his article, "Imaginaries of Exile and Emergence in Israeli Jewish and Palestinian Hip-Hop," in the journal The Drama Review.

This is the first time anyone has received both the Kunst and Chicago prizes, let alone in the same year. McDonald is the first faculty member from IU to win the Kunst Prize.

"These two awards are particularly gratifying in that they come from two different disciplines -- folklore and ethnomusicology -- and two different scholarly societies," McDonald said. "Our department is the only one of its kind to combine these two disciplines. To be nationally recognized as both a folklorist and ethnomusicologist demonstrates how our department, faculty and students benefit from this interdisciplinary engagement.

"I am incredibly proud to contribute to the long tradition of folklore and ethnomusicology here at Indiana University," he added.

McDonald joins a roster of esteemed IU scholars who have received the Chicago Folklore Prize since 1904. Previous winners include Henry Glassie, College Professor Emeritus; John Holmes McDowell, professor of folklore and director of graduate studies; Michael Dylan Foster, an IU associate professor in the departments of folklore and East Asian languages and cultures; Hasan El-Shamy, professor emeritus of folklore and ethnomusicology and of Near Eastern languages and cultures; the late Linda Degh, Distinguished Professor of folklore and ethnomusicology; and the late Warren E. Roberts, who taught at IU from 1949 to 1994 and was one of the founders of the American study of "folklife" and material culture.

In his book, McDonald rethinks the conventional history of the Palestinian crisis through an ethnographic analysis of music and musicians, protest songs, and popular culture.

Charting a historical narrative that stretches from the late Ottoman period through the end of the second Palestinian intifada, McDonald examines the shifting politics of music in its capacity to both reflect and shape fundamental aspects of national identity.

"In this book I uncover the ways in which Palestinians have used music in their drive for self-determination. I wanted to tell the Palestinian story through music, highlighting an often neglected cultural perspective," he said. "Too often Palestinian lives and experiences are omitted from mainstream representations of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.  This book seeks to address that omission by focusing on Palestinian lifeways and personal experience living in exile and under occupation."

In the award citation for the Chicago Prize, judges noted that folklorists often place themselves within socio-political conversations and show how creativity is used to respond to controversy, tensions and uncertainty.

"At its best, such research reveals the beauty and hope that can prevail despite the most trying circumstances, and reveal the personal dimensions of local, national and international conflict," they said. "This year’s recipient of the Chicago Folklore Prize for the best scholarly monograph in folklore is a bold and timely contribution to this branch of folklore studies, challenging us to continue to address even the most fraught conflicts around the world."

McDonald conducted much of the research for his book in the Palestinian territories and through meetings with refugee musicians. As the judges noted, this enabled him to understand not only the music of protest but also the "tensions that underlie that protest."

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