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Postdoctoral Fellow Profile: Jessica Herdman

Dr. Jessica Herdman is a SSHRC postdoctoral fellow in the Department of History whose work focuses on music, conflict, affect, and identity. She is currently pursuing research on music in the early colonial period in the Great Lakes region during the period 1615-1701. She is working to explore how musical interactions between missionaries and Indigenous peoples had serious impacts on both their understandings. Music, Dr. Herdman argues, is implicated in the epistemic violence of the period by early French missionaries.

Dr. Herdman came to the University of Manitoba for her fellowship following the completion of her doctorate at the University of California, Berkeley where she studied historical musicology and competed her dissertation entitled “Musical Affective Economics and the Wars of Religion in Lyon.” Her project examined how music was being used during the decades of religious conflict in roles such as performance of community boundaries, inflaming violence, and pacification of ‘unruly’ populations. Concentrating on popular theatre, street songs, and processions, her study highlights the ephemeral, the performed, and the anonymous. The Wars of Religion that were the focus of her work also coincided with the ruptures of colonization. In the process of writing her dissertation, Dr. Herdman realized that the colonial encounters of “New France” were crucial to our understanding of conflict and musicking back in “old” France.


Jessica Herdman on a research trip at the Hotel Dieu in Marseille, France.


Jessica Herdman is also an affiliate at the University of Manitoba Institute for the Humanities. As an affiliate, the Institute is helping to fund the archival research that she will undertake soon in Quebec. Going through the colonial archive is a starting point for the kind of research that she hopes to accomplish. Herdman says the archive is only a starting point because it’s also very limiting to our view of historical encounter. She says, “We know, for example, that seventeenth century Jesuit accounts of their contact with Indigenous peoples were not only proto-ethnographic, but also purposefully propagandistic. As a cultural historian, adequately exploring archives means tuning your ears to both the screams and the silences. This subject also demands that I extend my view beyond the colonial archive, reading the records of the colonizers against oral histories and material cultures of the Great Lakes Region Indigenous nations.”

Dr. Herdman’s research activity at the University of Manitoba benefits the Faculty of Arts by promoting interdisciplinary thought and study between scholars in music and in Arts departments, as well as contributing to the developing body of work being done in post-colonial studies. The important work being done between many disciplines in the field of post-colonial studies helps to put the University of Manitoba on the map as an institution progressing beyond its past, and furthering the University’s important relationship with the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation.

Posted in Graduate Student Profile, Research Check-in.

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