Music as an Historical Source

4th April 2014: Music and Imperialism

Aims & Objectives:

  • To introduce students to music as an historical resource.
  • To encourage critical thinking linking music, composer and historical period.
  • To encourage students to discover how they may use music as an historical resource in their own research.

Lesson Plan:

  1. Working in small groups, students will choose a piece of music of their choice. This can be from any period of history, ranging from Mozart to Lady Gaga. Within the groups, on a large sheet of paper, students will draw a spider diagram with the title of the piece of music as the centre point. From here, they will draw as much historical context from the music as possible. For example, if Beethoven’s 9th Symphony was chosen, students may ascertain that the piece was German. What was the situation in Germany at the time? Was it even a country? What are the lyrics concerned with? What sort of man was Beethoven politically? Even if firm answers cannot be ascertained, students will be encouraged to speculate and form opinions.
  2. After this, students should present their ideas to the class. If the song is available on YouTube, the lecturer/teacher should play short clips to establish context. Encourage the groups to have input on each of the other groups. Can each group expand their spider diagrams to paint an ever more accurate picture of that period of time?
  3. Following directly on from this, students should watch Matt Lawson’s Music and Imperialism video and discuss the content. How can music be used, following on from earlier group discussions, to learn about Imperialism? Discuss whether music can inform our historical learning, but also whether our historical learning can inform our musical knowledge. Ask the students to name as many ‘Imperialistic’ pieces of music as possible, and ask them to explain their link to Imperialism, and how they might it as a resource for learning.
  4. The session will finish by linking the opening own-choice pieces of music with those on Imperialism, and finding common ground. This proves that music of all eras can be used as a valuable historical resource.

If you’d like to consider the importance of music as a source to examine the Nazi era, specifically something which was at the time referred to a ‘degenerate’ music please see Matt Lawson’ video below: