PhD Oral Exam - Kate Bevan-Baker, Humanities
When studying for a doctoral degree (PhD), candidates submit a thesis that provides a critical review of the current state of knowledge of the thesis subject as well as the student’s own contributions to the subject. The distinguishing criterion of doctoral graduate research is a significant and original contribution to knowledge.
Once accepted, the candidate presents the thesis orally. This oral exam is open to the public.
Part of an archipelago that stretches along the seaways from Newfoundland to Les Îles-de-la-Madeleine, Prince Edward Island is Canada’s smallest province. It lies “cradled in the waves,” (as its Mi’kmaq name infers), off the east coast of New Brunswick in the shallow waters of the Northumberland Strait. Its moderate climate and rich red soil has allowed fishing and agriculture to prosper there over the centuries. The Island has been a landing-point for Europeans ever since Jacques Cartier arrived there from France in 1534. The subsequent influx of Acadian, Scottish and Irish settlers during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries laid the foundations of European settlement on the Island. Two centuries later, the cultural traits of these original settlers continue to distinguish community life on PEI. Music plays a pivotal role in the maintenance of these lifeworlds—especially, traditional fiddle music.
This thesis investigates Irish traditional fiddle music on Prince Edward Island. Drawing on field interviews, transcription analyses, archive recordings, and participant-observation at various music festivals and session venues on PEI, it focuses on the performance histories of past and present fiddlers, many of whom are carriers of dual, or “bi-musical” traditions from Ireland and Scotland. Beginning with the diasporic history of Irish settlers on PEI, the thesis maps Irish “sonic” territories across the Island, and explores the cultural memory and collective sense of place that give them musical meaning. This “deep mapping” creates a textured portrait of Irish fiddle dialects on the Island; in particular, regional and individual nuances, repertoire development, bowing patterns and ornamentation techniques. Contrasting the process of Irish ethnic fade on the Island with a recent surge of musical hybridity and transculturation, the thesis argues that the Irish soundscape on Prince Edward Island is experiencing many of the same creative challenges and transformations that impact Irish traditional soundscapes in other parts of the world.