Roots, Rock, and Reggae | National Humanities Center

Humanities in Class: Webinar Series

Roots, Rock, and Reggae

Matthew Smith

Matthew J. Smith (NHC Fellow, 2018–19; Professor of History)

November 12, 2020

This webinar will consider how humanities scholars research and write about popular music, highlighting the unique interdisciplinary methods often employed as part of this process. Generally, popular music is reflective of broader social and political change. Yet at the same time, there are elements of its development that are quite specific to the concerns of its creators. To successfully attend to this balance of the personal and the public and how it shapes creative musical production, the scholar is charged with looking beyond the text of lyrics or interviews in order to explore other factors that influence composition. The webinar takes as its example a current project which studies the social history of Jamaican music from the 1950s to the 1980s. It considers the sources that have been used–both conventional and novel–and discusses how to apply unique analyses to this material in order to better understand the composition, production, and legacy of Jamaican music. The webinar will use case studies of select songs from Bob Marley’s canon to explore the career these songs have had as they moved from their source base in Jamaica to become part of the mainstream pop songbook.


Music / Popular Music / Reggae / Rock and Roll / Social History /