Theses Doctoral

The Berliner Phonogramm-Archiv and the Emergence of Comparative Musicology

Cairns, Elliott Scott

This dissertation examines the early history of the Berliner Phonogramm-Archiv (Berlin Phonogram Archive) and its role in the institutionalization of comparative musicology. The Berliner Phonogramm-Archiv was established in 1900 by psychologist Carl Stumpf in order to collect and preserve the phonographic recordings of non-European musics that would serve as the primary research materials for the then nascent discipline of comparative musicology. I situate the formation of the Phonogramm-Archiv and the emergence of comparative musicology within the historical contexts of the German cultural sciences and colonialism, and argue that both archive and discipline were informed as much by this immediate intellectual and political background as they were by the arrival of sound recording technologies in Germany. I explore how the other cultural sciences, primarily anthropology and ethnology, served as a model for comparative musicology’s methodological and epistemological framework, as well as for the strategies employed for expanding the Phonogramm-Archiv’s collection. As a cultural science, comparative musicology was governed by the tenet of scientific objectivity, and in sound recording, Stumpf found a means with which it was possible to engage with non-European musics objectively. Yet the scientific method also required the comparison of many different examples in order to determine laws through induction, which necessitated the collection of recordings of as many different musics as possible. In this dissertation, I demonstrate how the Phonogramm-Archiv’s mission to amass recordings and the comparative musicological project these recordings facilitated were both enabled by and dependent on the German colonial apparatus.


  • thumnail for Cairns_columbia_0054D_15908.pdf Cairns_columbia_0054D_15908.pdf application/pdf 4.7 MB Download File

More About This Work

Academic Units
Thesis Advisors
Hisama, Ellie M.
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
July 13, 2020