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Meet the Fellows: 2016 Newcombe Fellow Abigail Fine

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This is one of a series of posts featuring Fellows from the Woodrow Wilson Foundation network.

The Charlotte W. Newcombe Doctoral Dissertation is the nation’s largest and most prestigious award for Ph. D. candidates in the humanities and social sciences addressing questions of ethical and religious values. The 2016 class of Fellows includes Abigail Fine, a doctoral candidate in music at the University of Chicago.

Ms. Fine is exploring the way in which 19th-century devotion to composers, and fascination with their persons and belongings, shaped the reception of their music. She shares one of her own encounters from an archive in Vienna:

Even though I study cult veneration in my research, I’ve never thought of myself as a cultish person. I’m relatively unsentimental about visiting famous gravesites, birth houses, or spots where such-and-such happened. Or at least I thought I had a healthy sense of objectivity until an archivist in Vienna plunked a box of curious treasures in front of me: a couple Beethoven hair-locks in brooches and (eerily enough!) a shred of Beethoven’s shroud encased in glass. When I noticed that some stubbly ends were protruding from the brooch, I couldn’t help myself—I tentatively reached out and touched Beethoven’s hair. It was a surprisingly powerful compulsion. Despite my pride in my own level-headedness, I found myself wanting that same tangible encounter with Beethoven’s body that was coveted by nineteenth-century music lovers. That one strange moment has led me to reflect on the power of material objects and especially the living quality of hair, so immune to decay, and in Beethoven’s case, so iconic of his unruly persona!

Ms. Fine’s dissertation is titled Objects of Veneration: Music and Materiality in the Composer-Cults of Germany and Austria (1870–1927). For more information on the 2016 Newcombe Fellows and to see a list of their dissertation titles, click here.


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