Alexander W. Cowan
Alexander W. Cowan is a PhD candidate in historical musicology in Harvard’s Department of Music. His doctoral work focuses on the history of the idea of inherited musical talent and how it was put to use in the British and American eugenics movements in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
At Harvard Radcliffe Institute, he will complete his dissertation, “Unsound: A Cultural History of Music and Eugenics.” Bringing together archival discoveries and new readings of more than a century of scientific texts, the dissertation asks why musical talent was thought of as a particularly powerful case study by eugenicists and explores the impact of earlier eugenic work on music in modern-day science and politics.
Cowan holds degrees from St. Hugh’s College, University of Oxford, and King’s College London. This year, he is also the recipient of an honorary Alvin H. Johnson AMS 50 Dissertation Fellowship from the American Musicological Society (AMS), and his work has previously been supported by grants from the AMS, the Charles Warren Center for Studies in American History, the Minda de Gunzburg Center for European Studies, and the Society for American Music.