Brigid Cohen is a historical musicologist who specializes in the historiography of musics and musicians in migration. Her research and teaching examine the mass dislocation of peoples over the last two centuries, addressing conditions of empire, globalization, genocide, exile, and minoritarian citizenship. This intellectual program stems from her conviction that music assumes special value under the pressure of conditions of uprooting. Music serves as a mode of self-fashioning, secures new (and old) community bonds, and brings individuals together in listening, speech, and action. It also interacts in variegated ways with the silences that emerge from troubled sites of memory.
Cohen has published extensively on the politics of 20th-century avant-gardes, archive theory, histories of cosmopolitanism, postcolonial studies, 20th-century German-Jewish diasporic thought, and intersections of music, literature, and the visual arts. Her first book Stefan Wolpe and the Avant-Garde Diaspora (Cambridge University Press, 2012) won the Lewis Lockwood Prize of the American Musicological Society for best monograph of the year by a scholar at an early career stage. He second book Musical Migration and Imperial New York: Early Cold War Scenes (University of Chicago Press, 2022) explores questions of displacement and citizenship through a study of New York concert avant-gardes, jazz, electronic music, and performance art in the 1950s and 1960s. This book trains its focus on the cultural-political dilemmas navigated by uprooted creators in New York as a capital of empire during the Cold War. Recent articles related to this book project include “Ono in Opera: A Politics of Art and Action, 1960-62” in ASAP/Journal (2018) and “Enigmas of the Third Space: Mingus and Varèse at Greenwich House, 1957” in Journal of the American Musicological Society (2018). Cohen is also the convener of the round table “Edward Said and Musicology Today” in Journal of the Royal Musical Association (2016). In recent years, her research has been supported by the Max Planck Institute for History of Science (2017, 2018), the National Endowment for the Humanities (2014-15), Wellesley College (2014-15), and the American Academy in Berlin (2010).
Cohen regularly speaks publicly about her scholarship, having delivered keynote talks at University of Sydney (2017), Instituto Cervantes at Harvard University (2017), Sibelius Academy in Helsinki (2015), and other educational institutions. She has also published and provided interviews in media outlets such as the PBS Newshour website, The Conversation, Der Tagesspiegel, BBC Radio 3, and Channel 13 New York (PBS/WNET).