Kira Thurman is a highly-sought-after and award-winning historian and musicologist. A classically-trained pianist who grew up in Vienna, Austria, Thurman earned her PhD in history from the University of Rochester with a minor field in musicology from the Eastman School of Music. Her research, which has appeared in German Studies Review, the American Historical Review, Journal of the American Musicological Society (JAMS), Opera Quarterly, and Journal of World History, focuses on two topics that occasionally converge: the relationship between music and national identity, and Central Europe's historical and contemporary relationship with the Black diaspora.
She is the recipient of many awards and fellowships, including a Fulbright fellowship to Germany, the Berlin Prize from the American Academy of Berlin, and a residential fellowship at the Institute for Advanced Study (IAS) in Princeton, New Jersey. Her article, "Black Venus, White Bayreuth: Race, Sexuality, and the De-Politicization of Wagner" won the German Studies Association's DAAD prize for best article on German history in 2014. Her article, "Performing Lieder, Hearing Race: Debating Blackness, Whiteness, and German National Identity in Interwar Central Europe" won the Central European Historical Society's Annelise Thimme prize for best article published in 2019/2020.
Her book, Singing Like Germans: Black Musicians in the Land of Bach, Beethoven and Brahms (Cornell University Press, 2021), traces the history of Black classical musicians in German-speaking Europe across the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. New Yorker music critic Alex Ross praised it as "one of the most original and revelatory books to have been written about classical-music history in many years...An instant classic that deserves the widest possible audience." Singing like Germans has thus far won seven prizes: the Marfield Prize (National Award for Arts Writing), the Rock and Roll Hall ofo Fame Gleason Book Award, the German Studies Association's DAAD prize for best book in History/Social Sciences, the Royal Musical Association's Best Monograph Prize, the American Historical Association's George Mosse Prize, the American Musicological Society's Judy Tsou Critical Race Studies Award, and the Modern Language Association's Aldo and Jeanne Scaglione Prize for Studies in Germanic Languages and Literatures (honorable mention). NPR named it one of the Best Books of 2021.
Professor Thurman is currently developing several new projects, including a book on Afro-European pop music, a project on race and data visualization in modern Germany, and a monograph on the history of Black classical musicians.
A firm believer in public engagement, Thurman has written for outlets such as the New York Times, The New Yorker, and Frieze Magazine, and has appeared on PBS documentaries and public radio programs in Germany and the United States. She has written historical materials and/or provided historically-informed consultations for orchestras such as the Elbphilharmonie (Hamburg), BBC Proms (London), the Boston Symphony Orchestra, Aspen Music Festival, the Cleveland Orchestra, the New World Symphony Orchestra, and the New York Philharmonic. Together with colleagues across the United States and Europe and with the support of the German Historical Institute in Washington, D.C., she runs the public history website, blackcentraleurope.com.
Germanic Lanuages & Literature
Field(s) of Study
- Modern Central Europe
- Cultural history
- Black studies
- Nationalism and racism
- Transatlanticism and transnationalism
"AHR Conversation: Black Internationalism," in the American Historical Review, Volume 125, No. 5 (December 2020)
"Performing Lieder, Hearing Race: Debating Blackness, Whiteness, and German Identity in Interwar Central Europe" in the Journal of the American Musicological Society, Volume 72, No. 3 (Fall 2019)
“Singing the Civilizing Mission in the Land of Bach, Beethoven, and Brahms: The Fisk Jubilee Singers in 1870s Germany” in Journal of World History (Special Issue: “Preaching the Civilizing Mission”), Volume 27, No. 2 (Fall 2016)
“Black Venus, White Bayreuth: Race, Sexuality, and the De-Politicization of Wagner in Postwar West Germany” in German Studies Review, Vol. 35, No. 3 (October 2012).
"When Classical Music Was an Alibi," The New York Times (April 2022)
"When Europe Offered Black Composers An Ear," The New York Times (August 2021)
"When Marian Anderson Defied the Nazis," The New Yorker (July 2020)
"How Jessye Norman Broke Opera's Rules for Black Women," Frieze Magazine (October 2019)
"Black Europe: A Useful Category for Historical Analysis" co-authored with Kennetta Hammond Perry in Black Perspectives: A Blog of the African American Intellectual History Society (2016)