Ethnonationalism has recently surged across Central Europe and the world. In the past, much as now, such nationalism often has its roots in the imagination of a rural origin.

On March 15 at 2 p.m., in conversation with Sylvester Johnson, director of the Center for Humanities, Christopher Campo-Bowen will discuss his research and current book project, which focus on such idealized rural visions and how they came to be popularized through opera in what is today the Czech Republic and Austria.

Campo-Bowen, an assistant professor of musicology in the Virginia Tech School of Performing Arts, notes that operas became models for national organization and gender roles and were deployed as antidotes to the contagion of urban modernity and, most crucially, contributed to a rapidly developing sense of ethnoracial difference. The development of a multifaceted sense of Czech identity was deeply enmeshed with its geopolitical context. The complex negotiations of living within a multinational empire — resisting, working with, ignoring, and internalizing imperial modes of thinking — had a profound impact on how opera’s public importance was read and how music and ruralness could serve the construction of ethnic identity.

Such constructions of identity display striking parallels to situations currently facing the European Union and the United States and invite a deeper consideration of how ruralness and music impact politics, society, and culture in the early 21st century.

Campo-Bowen’s research focuses on music in the Habsburg Monarchy in the 19th and 20th centuries, especially on the relationships between music, ethnicity, gender, and empire. He is particularly interested in how conceptions of ruralness in Czech operas structured notions of subjectivity and identity.

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