Historiography and Complexities

Why is music ‘National’?


  • Hans Weisethaunet University of Oslo




historiography, music histories, role of the nation in relation to music


The article examines key issues in attempts to construct popular music and popular music histories in terms of nationality and ‘national’ identity. Moving from historiographical issues to an in-depth discussion of the uses and problems of ‘nation’ as an overriding category in music history writing, it draws on a number of theoretical sources, including historiography, social theory, popular music studies, music anthropology, postcolonial theory, and current questions in cultural theory concerning globalization and cosmopolitanism. As pointed out by Homi Bhabha and others, our understanding of ‘nation’ “is by nature ambivalent” (Bhabha 1990). The article brings into debate issues from the author’s study of music criticism in the USA, UK and the Nordic countries, and examples ranging from West-African popular music, to ideas of ‘Nordic’ jazz and journalistic and academic struggles to construct popular music as ‘American’ in the US. Why is music so easily and ubiquitously taken to represent something ‘national’? In order to account for music’s relevance in the proximity of history, the author argues that it is necessary to broaden the horizon of these writing strategies and be critical and reflexive about the ‘nation-building’ project, common linear narratives within such histories and the mythological tropes that colour these writings.

Author Biography

Hans Weisethaunet, University of Oslo

University of Oslo


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Alpha Blondy (musician), interviewed by Hans Weisethaunet, Norway, 26 July, 2006.

Richard Bona (musician), interviewed by Hans Weisethaunet, Norway, 10 August, 2006.

Greil Marcus (critic), interviewed by Hans Weisethaunet, Seattle, Washington, 17 April, 2004.



How to Cite

Weisethaunet, H. (2007). Historiography and Complexities: Why is music ‘National’?. Popular Music History, 2(2), 169–199. https://doi.org/10.1558/pomh.v2i2.169




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