Emerson College Professor Launches a First-of a-Kind Digital Museum Devoted to America's Quintessential Musical Instrument: The Banjo Project

(December 20, 2018)

Emerson College announces the creation and launch of a first-of-its-kind digital museum devoted to the banjo – an instrument that uniquely reflects America's complicated and contested social history. The Banjo Project, set to launch in June 2019, was created by Associate Professor Marc Fields, and produced by Fields and Assistant Professor Shaun Clarke. Fields is a Visual & Media Arts Professor and Emmy-Award winning writer/director/producer for PBS, most recently for the documentary Give Me the Banjo. The digital museum, built on a searchable archive of over 300 hours of original media, archival footage, stills and recordings, will serve as a public, online cultural resource devoted to the instrument's colorful and complicated history.

The digital museum, in beta form at banjo.emerson.edu, is supported by a $100,000 National Endowment for the Humanities grant, which is the largest NEH grant received in the college's history. The award is part of $14.8 million in grants announced on December 12 by NEH for 253 humanities projects nationwide.

"The banjo has symbolized patriotism and protest, pain and pleasure, low entertainment and sophisticated leisure. It's been a black instrument, a white instrument, a laborer's pastime and a socialite's diversion, a young person's fad and an old-timer's friend. But mostly it's been a snubbed instrument," said Fields, who aims to showcase the banjo's rich and diverse music and players in their historical context.