Focus on Faculty: Ann Morrison Spinney

Since coming to Boston College in 2003 Ann Morrison Spinney has made a tremendous contribution to the interdisciplinary tradition of Irish Studies and has greatly enhanced the range of the program. Irish Studies has for many years offered popular performance classes in dance, fiddle, flute and tin whistle; the program also recognizes the need to teach Irish, Celtic and world music as an academic discipline. Professor Spinney earned her doctorate in ethnomusicology at Harvard University. Professor Spinney’s doctoral work was in Native American studies, and her fieldwork on political ceremonies prompted her to examine her own ethnic identity. She had grown up with Irish and Scottish folk music all around her. Her father was an anthropologist with a keen interest in the history of the Morrison family, many branches of which migrated from Ireland around 1740. He was a folk music enthusiast as well. Spinney pursued classical musical training, but after her dissertation was finished she turned back to folk music as an area of study.
Spinney was making this transition when she arrived at Connolly House, and much of her recent work here has been in Celtic and Irish studies. One current project is a comparative study of ethnic festivals. Another is an investigation of contemporary adaptations of tradition, from Wiccan ceremonies, to Celtic Punk, to popular culture’s fixation with Celtic women. Such projects involve Spinney in research that is wide-ranging and genuinely interdisciplinary, and she has presented her work at conferences in various fields: Irish Studies, Women’s History, Ethnomusicology, Sociology, and Musicology. “Being associated with Irish Studies at BC has been like having a post-doctoral research fellowship, there are so many ideas being tossed around here,” Spinney comments. She has been especially grateful for the opportunity to work with Séamus Connolly, whose musical accomplishments, teaching, and fieldwork have inspired her greatly, and with Beth Sweeney, who has guided and built the Irish Music Archive.
Spinney’s teaching at Boston College reflects the range of her achievements and interests. Her courses include Introduction to World Music, Introduction to Irish Folk Music, Introduction to Celtic Musics, Native American Song, and Rock ‘n Roll and Popular Music in the United States. Popular music is an excellent medium through which to introduce students to important cultural and historical issues, Spinney observes, because it is so appealing. Often her courses are interdisciplinary; The Ballad Tradition, which is cross-listed in the English department, focuses on the English language ballad genre, from the earliest sources and to present-day ballads like those on Bruce Springsteen’s The Seeger Sessions. Spinney works with the new Writing Fellows Program, trains graduate students in Irish Studies in musical research, and donates her time and expertise to team-taught courses in the Irish Studies Program. She constantly explores innovative new teaching technologies, and was recognized with BC’s Teaching With New Media Award last spring.

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