Research Seminar: David Suisman

Henry Clay Drum Corp

Research Seminar: David Suisman

Sonic Warfare: Military Music, Labor, and Technology Since the Civil War

Location: Copeland Room, Hagley Library.

Time: 6:30pm.

In 2015, the U.S. military spent approximately $435 million on music—nearly three times as much as the entire budget of the National Endowment for the Arts. This paper puts such an investment in historical perspective by examining the character and impact of military music-making in the United States in the last 150 years. With special attention to the ways that music by and for soldiers has enhanced military labor, it analyzes the multiple functions music has had for the military, the varied technologies through which music has been made and heard, and the social implications for using music as an instrument of warfare. Drawing on the sociology of labor, the history of emotions, and extensive archival research, this paper considers soldiers’ experiences as singers, musicians, and audiences to show how music has worked as both a tool of manipulation (of soldiers) and of self-preservation (by soldiers).

David Suisman headshot

David Suisman is Associate Professor of history at the University of Delaware, where he directs the Hagley Graduate Program in Capitalism, Technology, & Culture. Suisman researches the history of consumer culture, and the ways in which capitalism has shaped and reshaped sensory experiences over time. He is the author of Selling Sounds: The Commercial Revolution in American Music, from Harvard University Press, and co-editor with Susan Strasser of Sounds in the Era of Mechanical Reproduction, from the University of Pennsylvania Press. Susiman’s current project examines the use of music by the United States military.


Emily Thompson of Princeton University will provide introductory comments.

Attendees are encouraged to read Suisman's paper, "Sonic Warfare: Military Music, Labor, and Technology Since the Civil War," which may be obtained by contacting Carol Lockman at

Free, reply requested, call (302) 658-2400, ext. 243, or email Carol Lockman at


Image: Henry Clay Drum Corps, 701322, Pierre A. Gentieu Brandywine River Valley photographs (Accession 1970.001), Audiovisual Collections and Digital Initiatives Department, Hagley Museum & Library, Wilmington, DE 19807