About

Super-Short Bio

Michael J. Kramer works at the intersection of historical scholarship, the arts, digital technology, 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). For more information, visit michaeljkramer.net.

Short Bio

Michael J. Kramer works at the intersection of historical scholarship, the arts, digital technology, 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 research explores the relationship between technology and tradition in the US folk music revival from the early twentieth century to the present; it includes a digital history project about the Berkeley Folk Music Festival, which took place on the University of California-Berkeley campus between 1958 and 1970. Future research focuses on the history of arts criticism in the United States and an intellectual history of the anarchist imagination in America. He teaches at Northwestern University, where he co-founded NUDHL, the Northwestern University Digital Humanities Laboratory. He also freelances as a dance dramaturg and an editorial consultant. He writes about history, the arts, politics, digital humanities, and other topics for numerous publications and blogs at michaeljkramer.net.

Full Bio

Michael J. Kramer works at the interdisciplinary intersection of historical scholarship, the arts, digital technology, 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.

Future research focuses on the history of arts criticism in the United States and an intellectual history of the anarchist imagination in America.

Kramer teaches at Northwestern University, where he is the co-founder of NUDHL, the Northwestern University Digital Humanities Laboratory, Kramer’s current research also includes an online, interactive, multimedia history of the Berkeley Folk Music Festival (1958-1970) that accompanies a museum exhibition and print catalogue/CD box set about this understudied but important event in post-World War II American 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: Digital Transatlantic Cultural History, 1700-present and as a digital consultant for Dancing on the Third Coast: The Chicago Dance History Project.

His public humanities scholarship includes work as dramaturg and historian-in-residence for The Seldoms, an award-winning contemporary dance company based in Chicago. In the past, he has been an editor at the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago and the website of the New York Times.

In addition to writing for numerous publications, he blogs at michaeljkramer.net.

Author Photos

Color (Photo: Jill Brazel) | Black and white (Photo: Jill Brazel)

Contact 

mjk@northwestern.edu

mjkram@icloud.com

CV

CV (pdf)


Book — 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.

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New Research

“This Machine Kills Fascists”: Technology and Tradition in the US Folk Music Revival

This book 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 project includes a digital archive and set of digital projects, a museum exhibition, and a catalogue that focus on the Berkeley Folk Music Festival, which took place on the flagship campus of the University of California from 1958 to 1970 but has been overshadowed by the Newport Folk Festival, which it partly inspired.


Future Research

The History of American Arts Criticism: A Review

There are many histories of cultural and social criticism in the United States, but no study that investigates how writing about the arts developed as a key space in which discussion and debates about the nature of American identity, politics, culture, and society took shape. From writing about the visual and performing arts to the emergence of criticism about popular forms of culture such as film, radio, television, and other forms of media to inquiries into artistic life more broadly, this study contends that arts criticism helped to shape what the United States stood for, both domestically and around the world.


Freethinkers: The Anarchist Imagination in America

The recent turn in the historical field toward studying conservatism, including libertarianism, has masked a more subversive but less well-documented radical anarchist sensibility in American life. Typically feared in the United States as a sign of chaos and social breakdown, anarchy also has a deep and rich intellectual, aesthetic, and cultural lineage in the country. From Emma Goldman to the African-American anarchist thinking of Lucy Parsons and Hubert Harrison to mid-twentieth century anarchists such as Paul Goodman, Kenneth Rexroth, and Grace Paley to the deep ecology anarchism of Murray Bookchin to the impact of Anglo punk culture in the US to more recent anarchist thought and culture found in the work of Ursula La Guin, Rebecca Solnit, and among cyberpunk writers and early Internet enthusiasts, even on a recent television show such as the motorcycle gang melodrama Sons of Anarchy, anarchy lives at once on the margins of American culture, but also, perhaps, in less articulated but compelling ways, close to the nation’s ideological core.


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.

Culture Rover Blog | CR Facebook PageRSS | Archive, 2004-2007

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Issues in Digital History Blog

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.

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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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