CHAMPAIGN, Ill. — University of Illinois music professor Michael Silvers has been awarded a 2019 Andrew Carnegie Fellowship. He’ll use the fellowship to study how aesthetic, cultural, environmental and political histories are linked to instrument-making and Brazilian natural resources.
The Andrew Carnegie Fellows Program awards up to $200,000 for a period of up to two years for scholars to research and write on topics in the humanities and social sciences. Silvers is one of 32 winners in the 2019 class of Carnegie Fellows, chosen from 273 nominations.
The fellows are selected based on the quality, originality and potential impact of their proposals, as well as each scholar’s capacity to communicate the findings to a broad audience. The four broad topic areas for the 2019 fellowships are environments, natural and human; global connections and ruptures; technological and cultural creativity – potential and perils; and strengthening U.S. democracy.
Silvers is an ethnomusicologist who specializes in the music of Brazil, and a scholar in the new multidisciplinary field of ecomusicology, exploring the relationships between music, culture and nature. His 2018 book, “The Voices of Drought: The Politics of Music and Environment in Northeastern Brazil,” examined the connections between the forró music of northeastern Brazil and nature, and how both are affected by power and politics – particularly the social and economic implications of drought.
Silvers will use the Carnegie Fellowship for work on a new book, “Timber and Timbre: From Brazil’s Atlantic Forest to the Concert Hall.” The book is a study of aesthetics and natural resources in the making of violin bows for Western art music and fiddles for traditional music in Brazil. The project links instrument-making to histories of colonialism, the global circulation of aesthetics, and natural environments and local knowledge. In its comparison of brazilwood bows to handmade, local fiddles, the book will argue that environmental decline has affected systems of musical aesthetics.
During his fellowship, Silvers will spend time in Brazil and the U.S. to research traditional Brazilian fiddles and brazilwood logging and conservation, and to interview luthiers, musicians, loggers and environmentalists.
Chancellor Robert Jones nominated Silvers for the fellowship. In his nomination letter, Jones wrote: “Professor Silvers’ proposal is exciting because he combines rigorous humanities research on a very focused topic: Pernambuco wood used for violin bows and Brazilian rabecas, and situates it in the larger and compelling context of environmental degradation and climate change and the impacts of these forces on both global dynamics and local communities.
“Through his research, Professor Silvers expands the research boundaries typically associated with ethnomusicology and presents an exemplar of commitment to interdisciplinarity, complexity and environmental justice.”
Silvers also was awarded a Fulbright Scholar Award and a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities earlier this spring to support the project.