Singing the Nation: British Song Culture

Date created: 
Allan Ramsay
Robert Burns
Charles Dibdin
Thomas Moore
Song culture
Scribal culture
Print culture

This dissertation investigates articulations of nationalism and empire found within British song culture from the early eighteenth to the mid-nineteenth centuries. It seeks to expand our critical understanding of song culture, reading it as a varied, complex and multi-mediated form and suggesting that song culture needs to be situated at the centre of the culture of the Romantic period. I consider the characteristics of fluidity, mobility, dynamism, transformation, capaciousness, performativity evident in the work of four cultural producers: Allan Ramsay (1684-1758), Robert Burns (1759-1796), Charles Dibdin (1745-1814), and Thomas Moore (1779-1852). Each one was involved in the production of song culture through such practices as collecting, editing, writing, or performing songs. Chapter One examines the complicated ways in which song culture, gender, and the tropological play in the idea of “voice” figure in the construction of national identity in Allan Ramsay’s song collection The Tea-Table Miscellany (1724-1876). Chapter Two discusses the fluid form of national identity expressed in the songs of Robert Burns resulting from the interplay of history, ideas of the nation, and his activities as a producer, collector, and reviser of Scottish songs. Chapter Three suggests how the sea songs of Charles Dibdin not only posit an expansive form of national identity but reveal the capacity of song culture to effect change as well as challenge our understanding of late-eighteenth-century radicalism. Finally, Chapter Four examines the issue of context, considering how the material (con)textualization of Moore’s Irish songs affects the form of national belonging they express. These case studies provide evidence of how national song culture during this period could serve multiple, sometimes oppositional political purposes.

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Senior supervisor: 
Leith Davis
Arts & Social Sciences: Department of English
Thesis type: 
(Thesis) Ph.D.