Tomlinson named Sterling Professor of Music and of Humanities

Gary Tomlinson.
Gary Tomlinson

Gary Tomlinson, a musicologist whose work has extended beyond the study of music to encompass questions about human evolution and the nature of culture and creativity, has been appointed the Sterling Professor of Music and of Humanities, effective immediately.

The Sterling Professorship is awarded to a tenured faculty member considered one of the best in his or her field and is one of the university’s highest faculty honors.

Tomlinson is a member of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences (FAS) in the Department of Music and The Humanities Program.
A faculty member at Yale since 2010, Tomlinson previously held named professorships at the University of Pennsylvania. He is a MacArthur Fellow, a Guggenheim Fellow, a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and an Honorary Member of the American Musicological Society.

Tomlinson is the author of six books, which reflect his distinctive and expansive approach to the study of music and culture. “Monteverdi and the End of the Renaissance” (University of California Press, 1987) and “Music and Renaissance Magic” (University of Chicago Press, 1993) introduced new ways of understanding early modern music and its relationship to ideas about cultural change and the nature of the human subject. “In Metaphysical Song: An Essay on Opera” (Princeton University Press, 1999), Tomlinson recasts operatic history, reading it through the work of Western philosophers, and revealing how operatic voices articulate changing relations between the self and metaphysics. “The Singing of the New World” (Cambridge University Press, 2007) is a groundbreaking study that extended the scope of historical musicology to encompass music created during colonialism by the original inhabitants of the Americas. In Tomlinson’s most recent books, he looks beyond music history to human history: “A Million Years of Music” (Zone Books, 2015) examines the musical behavior of early sapiens and Neanderthals to suggest an origin story for creativity itself, while “Culture and the Course of Human Evolution” (University of Chicago Press, 2018) addresses both humanists and scientists and advances an innovative model for understanding how humans developed the capacities to transform our world. This work has shaped approaches in evolutionary studies as well as in the humanities. Tomlinson’s current book project, “The Reach of Meaning: Animals, Evolution, and Signs,” expands his vision beyond humans to analyze the emergence of semiotic meaning in the animal kingdom.

In addition to these volumes, Tomlinson has published dozens of papers and articles in interdisciplinary journals such as Critical Inquiry, Representations, The South Atlantic Quarterly, and Boundary 2 as well as in various musicological journals and in edited volumes on music and on human evolution. In recent writings he has collaborated with Yale professors Michael Denning and Günter Wagner. In 2007, a collection of his most influential articles was published as “Music and Historical Critique: Selected Essays.”

Tomlinson has received prizes for his scholarship from the British Academy, the Modern Language Association, the American Musicological Society, and the American Society of Composers, Authors, and Publishers (ASCAP). He has lectured at numerous institutions around the world, including the University of Cambridge, King’s College London, the University of Oslo, the University of Copenhagen, the University of KwaZulu Natal, the Royal Musical Association, and the Musicological Society of Australia, as well as at numerous North American universities and colleges.

At Yale, Tomlinson served as director of the Whitney Humanities Center (WHC) from 2012 to 2020. Under his leadership, the WHC grew in influence as an internationally-recognized hub for cross-disciplinary humanities scholarship. Tomlinson’s undergraduate seminar “Culture and Human Evolution” is in high demand with students and is cross-listed in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, History of Science and Medicine, and the Humanities.

Beyond Yale, Tomlinson has served on the boards of directors for the Consortium of Humanities Centers and Institutes, the American Musicological Society, and the Renaissance Society of America. He has participated in external review committees for Princeton, Columbia, Harvard, and Cornell, and on selection committees for the Mellon Foundation, the National Humanities Center, the National Endowment for the Humanities, and the Radcliffe Institute.

He earned his B.A. from Dartmouth and his Ph.D. at the University of California, Berkeley.

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