Posted on September 28, 2017 by Tia Lalani

University of Alberta Augustana professor Roxanne Harde will be heading to Vanderbilt University in January to study Southern singer-songwriters as a recipient of this year’s Fulbright Canada Visiting Research Chair award.

You’d expect to hear the grittiness of Steve Earle’s voice, or Emmylou Harris’s sweeping notes wafting out of an old radio set to a Southern station on a hot summer’s day—but blaring from the office of an academic?

Most definitely, if it’s the office of University of Alberta Augustana professor Roxanne Harde, southern singer-songwriter aficionado and one of this year’s recipients of the prestigious Fulbright Canada Visiting Research Chair program. Professor Harde will be taking her love for country to the heart of the music, spending four months at Vanderbilt University in Tennessee starting in January.

The project, “Still Searching: Southern Singer-Songwriters, American Dreams,” recognizes contemporary singer-songwriters as the poets of our time, and their music as more than mere entertainment. Instead, their work offers political commentary, speaks about social injustice, calls for radical shifts in belief, and incites action and change. Songwriting, then, moves from passively observing how the world is to advocating for how it should be—conversations that professor Harde seeks to bring to light.

“This is where the culture works the hardest to criticize itself,” says Harde.

Following themes of Southern Appalachian Christianity, homosexuality, immigration and racism, environmental justice, and violence, Harde will use the tools of cultural studies to unpack these songs, both in terms of lyrics and sound.

For example, when REM, The Indigo Girls, and Mary Gauthier sing about sexuality, it’s not just about relationships and broken hearts, according to Harde, but the freedom to express yourself sexually even if that conflicts with what is considered traditional and conservative Southern ideals. These songs from and about the American South are seeking a different kind of American Dream, and the songwriters who center this project, says Harde, are often profoundly hopeful in their re-visioning of America.

The Fulbright offers her the chance to explore these connections in a place where a lot of this music began.

Working alongside Gertrude Conway Vanderbilt endowed professor Cecelia Tichi, who published Reading Country Music: Steel Guitars, Opry Stars, and Honky-Tonk Bars among other works on country music, Harde will spend time in the special and music collections at Vanderbilt and the American music archives at the University of Tennessee and Murfreesboro, will haunt the Bluebird Café where singers like Townes Van Zandt and Steve Earle still regularly perform, and perhaps most important of all, will write.

Harde’s initial foray into country music led to co-editing a collection of essays on lyricists and American culture, featuring her own chapter on Steve Earle.

“I’ve been in the milieu, so I know what I’m getting into and what will be formative because I’ve already started the research,” Harde explains, having previously visited the various halls of fame and museums for Bluegrass, Blues, Country, and Americana music in Tennessee and Kentucky on a Killam Research Grant, which led to a chapter in Walking the Line, a collection of essays on country music lyricists that she also co-edited. “I’m most excited about having the time to really get into the project.”

For Harde, this time is invaluable. Alongside her teaching and research responsibilities, Harde is also the Associate Dean of Research at Augustana and has published widely on everything from the embodied child in The Hunger Games Series to teaching and learning pedagogy, feminist theology, and Bruce Springsteen. Harde will be teaching a winter-term block course on “Writing the Body” before heading to Tennessee, where the sweet sounds of Southern country will be calling her name.

The Fulbright Canada Visiting Scholar award is granted to exceptional and highly accomplished individuals to increase international engagement and encourage mutual understanding between Canada and the US. Fulbright award recipients include Nobel and Pulitzer Prize winners, heads of state, educators, artists, and various leaders of research and innovation.

Professor Harde will be recognized at the University of Alberta’s annual Celebrate! Teaching.Learning.Research event on September 28, 2017 at 4 pm in the Meyer Horowitz Theatre in Edmonton. To attend, please register at uab.ca/celebrate.


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One response to English professor receives Fulbright Scholar Award

  • Jenny Kerber said:
    Oct 4, 2017 at 8:24 PM

    Fantastic – congratulations Roxanne! Good luck with your research in Tennessee.
    Jenny Kerber