Carolyn Abbate, Chair

Paul and Catherine Buttenwieser University Professor
Historical Musicology

Carolyn Abbate works on opera, music philosophy, and sound studies. Her writings have been translated into several languages, and she herself is a translator (most recently, of Vladimir Jankélévitch’s La musique et l’ineffable). Her current research centers on mischievous sound technologies and acoustic artifacts from the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, and their place in histories of hearing and mishearing.

Abbate received a B.A. from Yale and a PhD from Princeton; she has taught at Princeton and the University of Pennsylvania and (as visiting faculty) at the Freie Universität Berlin; and held research fellowships and lectureships at the Wissenschaftskolleg Berlin, Kings College Cambridge, the University of Hong Kong, and the Institute for Advanced Study Princeton. Outside academia, she has worked as a dramaturg and director. Many of her writings focus on opera, from its beginnings around 1600 through the 21st century.

Abbate’s research crosses many disciplines. Her work has integrated thinking from history of science and technology, philosophy and aesthetics, and linguistics. Recent publications have dealt with sound technology in the machine age (“Sound Object Lessons,” 2016), cognitive disjunction and ephemeral art (“Overlooking the Ephemeral,” 2017), and operetta (“Offenbach, Kracauer, and Ethical Frivolity,” 2017). Her book in progress deals with lesser-known sound-technological artifacts from the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, and how they are used (and misused) to construct histories of human hearing and listening. This research puts critical pressure on habits of using sound and acoustic instruments as an epistemic tool, asking what happens when instruments, sound-based apparatuses, and machines (whether by inventor design, by misfires in their channels of operation, or subsequent discourses clustered around them) are mischievous, and engender fables.