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GSAS' David Suisman Wins Bancroft Prize for His Work on American Music's Big Bang

By Katherine Moore

David Suisman

Offering an historical perspective on our current pop music culture, in which stars are marketed and branded like cars or sodas, David Suisman (GSAS 2002) has received Columbia University's Bancroft Dissertation Award for his deep analysis of how the star-making machinery all began.

Suisman's seminal work, "The Sound of Money: Music, Machines, and Markets, 1890-1925" (fall semester, 2003), explores the birth of music as big business in the United States, bridging the fields of cultural, social and economic history in the 1890s and early 20th century. Tracing American musical development from parlor to jazz hall, "The Sound of Money" draws on a wide range of sources, including sound recordings, oral histories, ads, and business records.

"David Suisman's dissertation is one of the most imaginative I have had the pleasure of supervising," said Eric Foner, Columbia's DeWitt Clinton Professor of History and Suisman's advisor. "It takes a familiar subject -- the rise of popular music in the early 20th century, and examines it from a host of unfamiliar angles, including how records and phonographs were marketed to middle-class Americans, how 'celebrities' like [Enrico] Caruso were created and used to sell phonograph records and the complex interplay of race and the business of music. It was well deserving of the Bancroft award."

Columbia's Graduate School of Arts and Sciences sponsors the award, which included $14,000 for publishing his dissertation. Once published, Suisman's dissertation is expected to attract attention from scholars in many disciplines.

"It is simply an enormous pleasure and honor to receive this award," said Suisman. "I have so much respect and esteem for many of the past Bancroft winners; it's really an amazing thrill to join their ranks."

Suisman is the author of numerous publications and presentations on American music, including "Co-workers in the Kingdom of Culture: Black Swan Records and the Political Economy of Music," Journal of American History (forthcoming, March 2004); "This Land Is Your Land," The Life and Legacy of Woody Guthrie," Journal of American History 87:2 (December 2000); and "What Is African-American Music? Making Music History," Race and Reason 4 (1997) 47-51. He has held teaching appointments at Columbia University, City University of New York, Queens College; New School University and Marymount Manhattan College, and is also a consulting historian on The History Channel, A & E Television Networks.

At Columbia, Suisman specialized in U.S. cultural and economic history from the colonial era to the present, music history, the history of technology, and African-American history. He received his Ph.D. in history, May 2002, and graduated from Yale University with a B.A. in history in May 1992. Suisman also completed coursework in history, film, art history and French at the Universite de Paris (Sorbonne).

The Bancroft Award was established by the Trustees of the University in 1963 to make possible the annual publication of a dissertation, successfully defended during the preceding year, in the areas of American history (including biographies), diplomacy, or international relations. It is now one of the most distinguished prizes bestowed by the university for outstanding Ph.D. work.

Published: Dec 12, 2003
Last modified: Dec 12, 2003

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