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Gianni Sievers

PhD Candidate


M.A., Islamic Studies, Free University of Berlin
B.A., History and Cultures of the Middle East, Free University of Berlin


My dissertation project centers on the changing musical and political landscape in North India and the Deccan during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Through the analysis of rich but neglected historical sources in Urdu, Hindi, Persian, Arabic and English along with other materials like photographs and gramophone records, I set out to recover, explore and historicize the reciprocal relationship between Muslim performers, patrons, and consumers of music in a world disrupted by British colonial rule and the final dismantlement of the Mughal throne after 1857. I ask: What was the role of music in the lives of Indian Muslims under colonialism? How did colonial modernity affect changes in thinking about and engaging with music? And how do musical practices shape histories of region and identity? I hypothesize that this period of great cultural transformation was also a time of important innovation in musical performance and epistemology (shifting from Persian to Urdu). I bring to the fore flourishing musical and intellectual networks of exchange between growing urban centers and deconstruct ideologically driven narratives and popular understandings of cultural history that depict India’s “classical” music tradition in terms of Hindu “roots,” Muslim “defilement,” and subsequent “revival” by upper-caste Hindus and new middle-class elites. My research expands current debates on colonial modernity and Islamic reform movements. It showcases the multiple ways in which people interacted with music and why it was a contested field in public life.

Research Interests

Modern and early modern South Asia; Islam and Muslim societies; the performing arts; sound studies; cultural and intellectual history; colonial and anti-colonial thought; decolonization.


Arabic, French, German, Persian, Portuguese, Urdu/Hindi