Harper Lecture with Michael Dietler: A Social History of the Chicago Blues

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Michael Dietler, Professor, Department of Anthropology, explores the history of the blues, from its rural origins among sharecroppers in the Yazoo Delta of Mississippi during the late 19th century to its journey to Chicago with the Great Migration of African Americans during the first half of the 20th century. Dietler traces the blues's subsequent transformation into the tough, powerful, electrified urban music that first attracted audiences outside the African American community in the 1960s and has had an enormous influence on other genres of American popular music. The lecture illustrates with musical examples (unfortunately, not included in the final version of the video because of copyright issues) from the great blues musicians of different periods and focuses on the definition of the blues and its regional styles; the transformation of the music in its urban context; and the shifting significance and racial politics of the blues during the Great Migration, post-1960s America, and the current era. Michael Dietler is professor of anthropology at the University of Chicago. Educated at the University of California, Berkeley (PhD, 1990), he taught at Yale University before moving to U of C in 1995. He has for many years conducted archaeological research in Mediterranean France and ethnographic research in Kenya, with a particular focus on alcohol and foodways, colonialism, and the politics of identity. Ethnomusicology is another major research interest of his, particularly the study of the blues, and he regularly teaches a popular anthropology course on the Chicago Blues (and plays blues harmonica). Read how Michael Dietler teaches about the Chicago Blues:

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