Born in Equatorial Guinea, Dr. Stephanie Shonekan is an ethnomusicologist who grew up during the height of funk music and television shows like Soul Train and the Beverly Hillbillies. Living in Nigeria during times of dramatic change, Dr. Shonekan learned about the world through music. As a young girl she heard many types of music on the radio and developed a deep interest in music and the cultures that create it, including Afrobeat, American country and black soul among others. Now an Assistant Professor of Ethnomusicology and Black Studies, Dr. Shonekan has built a career in academia that combines her interest in culture with her love of music, studying identity and what can be learned through experiencing music and learning about the lives that create it. Today, her office is decorated with iconic black musicians including Paul Robeson, Louis Armstrong, and Bob Marley – voices that echo across time, space and genre. While it can be difficult to come to an understanding of “the heart” of a culture, “music,” Dr. Shonekan says, “can take us there.”
In an office immersed in brilliant lime green and blue, Deborah Huelsbergen sits in front of her computer screen, with its Fruitloops screen saver, digging through boxes to pull out examples of her artwork. An associate professor of art and graphic design at Mizzou, Huelsbergen highlights two recent projects--both illustrated children’s books.
Going far beyond maps, as one might presume, “Geography is the study of human-environment interactions,” explains Soren Larsen, Assistant Professor of Geography at MU. The discipline as a whole covers activity ranging from physical geography (e.g., wind erosion and weather patterns), techniques (e.g., modeling air pollution with GIS, or Geographic Information Systems, to understand the interactions between humans and the environment), and something called human geography, a subfield that focuses on the political, economic, cultural, urban, and regional elements of human-environment interactions. Human geographers cast their eyes on “the impact of the environment on human behavior,” as well as “the impact of human activity on the environment.” Within human geography Larsen specializes in cultural geography. While traditionally that may have entailed mapping the distribution of various cultural traits to track changes over space and time, cultural geography today is much more process-focused, drawing heavily upon the methodologies and theories of anthropology, psychology, sociology, and philosophy.
Dr. Shonekan tells us about her collaborative work with African American Opera singer Camilla Williams. This collaboration served as the field work for Dr. Shonekan’s dissertation, and later culminated in her full-length biography The Life of Camilla Williams, African American Classical Singer and Opera Diva .
Dr. Shonekan explains how her teaching and reasearch enhance each other, and talks about how her own cultural background provides a unique platform for teaching about music and identity.
Dr. Shonekan’s current research examines how African youth have made musical hybrids by incorporating elements of American hip hop. Dr. Shonekan examines how this process influences the identities of young Africans, and discusses a concerning trend towards emulation.
“One of the most fascinating things I discovered in the course of my research,” reflects Larsen, is that both the Anglo and Cheslatta residents seem to use scales “in which they construct their identity for different purposes.” More specifically, he notices that, generally speaking, “when an outside force comes into the area . . . they call themselves Southsiders . . ., forming this unified front” against outside firms and corporations that tend to harvest the resources and then just leave. Their collaboration proved successful in preventing a new dam from being constructed, and “their success has bred more collaboration in these coalition politics.” Yet Larsen also noticed that when that outside force is removed, “they tend to fall back into their distinct little cultural groups”—Anglo and Cheslatta.