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March 16, 2004
(443) 287-9960

History and French Major
Storms French Archives

Roswell native studies work and life of little-known
French composer

Katherine McDonough, a Johns Hopkins University sophomore from Roswell, Ga., has conducted original research on the censorship of music in Revolution-era France. As part of the Hopkins Provost's Undergraduate Research Award program, McDonough spent months last year delving into her topic.

Regulations imposed by the Republican government during the French Revolution affected many aspects of France's 18th-century life. The government's attempt to regulate the music of that period is the focus of the final project that McDonough, a history and French major in the Krieger School of Arts and Sciences, has put together. Thanks to her PURA, McDonough spent six weeks of her summer in Paris in the music and manuscript divisions of the Bibliotéque Nationale de France and the Archives Nationales.

MUSIC IN 18TH-CENTURY FRANCE: Katherine McDonough, right, worked with sponsor Susan Weiss on a project that took her to Paris for six weeks of research.

In its 11-year existence, the Provost's Undergraduate Research Awards program has given 483 students grants approaching $1 million to follow their curiosity, thanks to funding primarily from the Hodson Trust. This year's winning students presented their findings in a ceremony on Thursday, March 11.

With Hodson support, the university is able to offer its undergraduates opportunities each year to apply for stipends to conduct independent research during the summer or fall. It's a commitment that the university feels is central to its mission, said Steven Knapp, university provost and senior vice president for academic affairs.

"Since its beginnings, Johns Hopkins has always emphasized the value of learning through discovery, and this program is an important opportunity for undergraduates to work in this tradition with our best and most creative faculty at the forefront of their fields," Knapp said.

McDonough's attention to French Revolutionary music began with a chance encounter. While visiting the Oberlin Conservatory during high school, she picked up a book that focused on just this subject. At Johns Hopkins, she honed her research skills and continued to build her knowledge of the French Revolutionary period. In the fall of 2002, she enrolled in a course called From the Court to the Boulevard: French Theatre and Opera, taught by Nicole Asquith.

Her final paper in that class focused on an essay written in 1796 by Jean-Baptiste Leclerc, a member of the Convention during the Revolution. In his essay, Leclerc, a lesser-known composer, called for the government to develop a canon of French national music and to censor the existing music performance system.

McDonough studied the writings and musical composition of Leclerc while in France and plans to continue searching for reviews of his work and evidence that he may have written more. "Since this project is in the field of music, my 10 years of classical piano and violin training will prove extremely useful," she said.

McDonough worked closely on this project with Susan Weiss, a musicologist at Peabody.

"It is rare to find a student interested in the history of the impact of political theory on culture, one gifted enough to be able to read and digest documents in a foreign tongue, and have the proficiency to understand the technical language of music theory and composition," Weiss said. "Katie's work will become a model for others interested in doing interdisciplinary research."

Digital photos of McDonough are also available upon request.

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