Michael J. Kramer works at the interdisciplinary intersection of historical scholarship, the arts, and cultural criticism. More about his work can be found at michaeljkramer.net.
Michael J. Kramer works at the interdisciplinary intersection of historical scholarship, the arts, and cultural criticism. He is the author of The Republic of Rock: Music and Citizenship in the Sixties Counterculture (Oxford University Press, 2013; paperback, 2017). His new historical research explores the relationship between technology and tradition in the US folk music revival from the early twentieth century to the present. He teaches at Northwestern University, where he co-directs NUDHL, the Northwestern University Digital Humanities Laboratory. He also works as a dramaturg and editor. He writes about history, the arts, politics, digital humanities, and other topics for numerous publications and blogs at michaeljkramer.net.
Michael J. Kramer works at the interdisciplinary intersection of historical scholarship, the arts, and cultural criticism. His book The Republic of Rock: Music and Citizenship in the Sixties Counterculture (Oxford University Press, 2013; paperback, 2017) draws on new archival sources and oral history interviews to explore late sixties and early seventies music and politics in two key locations: San Francisco and Vietnam. Tracking a vibrant engagement with questions of civics and citizenship within new logics of cooptation—”hip capitalism” in the Bay Area and a strange kind of “hip militarism” developed by the US Armed Forces in Southeast Asia—Kramer uncovers how the genre of countercultural rock music became a resource for everyday people to grapple with the nature of democracy under the rule of American power both domestically and globally.
Kramer’s new research investigates the relationship between technology and tradition in the US folk music revival. Typically understood as a Luddite movement, the folk revival in fact included diverse and deep interests in how technology could capture, preserve, and even advance the making and understanding of cultural heritage. From Alan Lomax’s computer-based Global Jukebox project to Charles Seeger’s melograph machine for electronic notation, from Zora Neale Hurston’s use of film for ethnography to Harry Partch’s homemade microtonal instruments, from the earliest ballad collectors and their debates over the information systems to use for compiling their findings to recent uses of YouTube and the nostalgic return of antiquated recording approaches, machines and the technological imagination have been key aspects of folk revival culture. This history offers an alternative to contemporary assumptions about digital “disruption” and the need simply to abandon the past, instead providing a record of efforts to combine tradition with progress.
The co-founder of NUDHL, the Northwestern University Digital Humanities Laboratory, Kramer’s current work also includes an online, interactive, multimedia history of the Berkeley Folk Music Festival (1958-1970) that accompanies a museum exhibition and printed catalogue about this understudied but important event in postwar US history. As a digital historian, he is also the principal investigator for an interdisciplinary humanities/computer science exploration of image sonification for historical inquiry. Additionally, he serves on the editorial board for Transcultura: The Digital Dictionary of Transatlantic Cultural History, 1700-present.
His public humanities scholarship includes work as dramaturg and historian-in-residence for The Seldoms, an award-winning contemporary dance company based in Chicago. He also is on the advisory board for Dancing on the Third Coast: The Chicago Dance History Project. In the past, he has been an editor at the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago and at the website of the New York Times and he continues to work as an editor in various capacities.
The Republic of Rock: Music and Citizenship in the Sixties Counterculture
By Michael J. Kramer (Oxford University Press, 2013; paperback, 2017)
In his 1967 megahit “San Francisco,” Scott McKenzie sang of “people in motion” coming from all across the country to San Francisco, the white-hot center of rock music and anti-war protests. At the same time, another large group of young Americans was also in motion, less eagerly, heading for the jungles of Vietnam. Now, in The Republic of Rock, Michael Kramer draws on new archival sources and interviews to explore sixties music and politics through the lens of these two generation-changing places–San Francisco and Vietnam. From the Acid Tests of Ken Kesey and the Merry Pranksters to hippie disc jockeys on strike, the military’s use of rock music to “boost morale” in Vietnam, and the forgotten tale of a South Vietnamese rock band, The Republic of Rock shows how the musical connections between the City of the Summer of Love and war-torn Southeast Asia were crucial to the making of the sixties counterculture. The book also illustrates how and why the legacy of rock music in the sixties continues to matter to the meaning of citizenship in a global society today. Going beyond clichéd narratives about sixties music, Kramer argues that rock became a way for participants in the counterculture to think about what it meant to be an American citizen, a world citizen, a citizen-consumer, or a citizen-soldier. The music became a resource for grappling with the nature of democracy in larger systems of American power both domestically and globally. For anyone interested in the 1960s, popular music, and American culture and counterculture, The Republic of Rock offers new insight into the many ways rock music has shaped our ideas of individual freedom and collective belonging.
Culture Rover – Promiscuous Cultural Criticism
Culture Rover is…wanderings through the pop ether…dives into the subterranean ooze…fragments from a life…gazes and glimpses…exclamation points and question marks…musings and meanderings…shards of crackpottery…occasional reports from a subject in the kingdom.
Issues in Digital History explores the developing field of digital history, serving as a place for reflections, links, and other critical investigations of what digital history is and what it might become. With special focus on vernacular music, digital sonification studies, digital archive studies, theories and practices of “data,” and digital history pedagogy. Issues in Digital History Blog | RSS
The Digital Berkeley Folk Music Festival
What can a digital archive be and do that a traditional archive cannot? How might we foster archives-driven public humanities engagements using digital approaches? The Berkeley Folk Music Festival Collection, a 30,000 plus archive of audio recordings, documents, film footage, and a particularly rich trove of photographs has sat virtually unused in Northwestern University’s Special Collections Library since it was purchased in 1973 from festival director Barry Olivier. This project will preserve the collection, present its rich holdings to a wider audience, interpret its significance in multiple formats, and bring its archival richness to bear on new possibilities for learning about cultural heritage and history in the digital age. The Berkeley Folk Music Festival ran from 1958 to 1970 on the campus of the University of California, Berkeley. It was directed by Barry Olivier, a Berkeley-raised guitarist and folk music advocate. The Festival was the preeminent folk festival on the West Coast, predating the more famous Newport Folk Festival on the East Coast, and presenting performers, artists, and scholars such as Joan Baez, Pete Seeger, Doc Watson, Alan Lomax, Howlin’ Wolf, Phil Ochs, Alice Stuart, Jean Ritchie, Jean Redpath, Jesse Fuller, Big Mama Thornton, Mance Lipscomb, Mississippi John Hurt, Slim Critchlow, Archie Green, Alan Dundes, Bess Hawes Lomax, Ewan MacColl, John Fahey, Robbie Basho, the Jefferson Airplane, the Youngbloods, Big Brother and the Holding Company, and many others. The festival’s willingness to embrace electric rock music and other forms of what would become known as roots music or Americana makes it markedly different from Newport, with its famous struggle over Bob Dylan going electric. It exemplifies the diverse and adventurous musical and cultural milieu of the West Coast—and the Bay Area in particular—and suggests a major revision in our understanding of the folk revival, of the relationship of culture to political events in Berkeley such as the Free Speech Movement, and to ongoing issues and questions about cultural heritage, technology, diversity, and commonality. The Digital Berkeley Folk Music Festival Project seeks to digitize and preserve the archive in a way that makes the rich holdings of the collection available for a wider audience that includes scholars, teachers, musicians, artists, students, folk aficionados, and the general public. And it will be a prototype for how the archive itself can become an active place not only for preservation but also for engagement and learning. When digitized and connected to a suite of software tools for visualization, mapping, sonification, remixing, and intensified collaboration, the archive becomes a kind of research workshop and a digital commons for the experience and study of sonic experience, the ephemeral past, and intangible cultural heritage. As with the festival itself—indeed, in some sense, extending the festival into the present through digital technologies—the archive invites users to come together as both individuals and a community grappling with meaning-making at a lively, festive crossroads where the past meets the present on the way to the future.
Culture Rover and other online materials by Michael J. Kramer are licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 United States License.
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