Dr Una McIlvenna from the School of Literature, Languages and Linguistics is the recipient of a four-year Future Fellowship from the Australian Research Council (ARC).
The project Singing the News: Ballads as News Media in Europe and Australia, 1550-1920 reveals how songs in premodern Europe and later in Australia were used for disseminating news about crime and punishment to public.
“I realised that songs used to be written about everything including shipwrecks, flooding, political battles and military conflicts. The project now includes all categories of news and will be in five languages – English, French, German, Italian and Dutch,” Dr McIlvenna said.
“While researching, I found that news was not just informative but also emotive often using familiar melodies with strong emotional connotations. It also always had a moral message to be learnt from the piece of news being given to public.”
Her recent book Singing the News: Ballads as News Media in Europe and Australia, 1550-1920 looks at the tradition of execution ballads, songs that spread the news of condemned criminals and their punishments.
Dr McIlvenna is Honorary Senior Lecturer in English at ANU, and has held positions at the Universities of Melbourne, Sydney, Kent and Queen Mary University of London.
Her book Singing the News: Ballads as News Media in Europe and Australia, 1550-1920 has been shortlisted for the 2023 NSW Premier’s General History Prize.
Judges’ comments states, “…Readers experience the emotional texture and vicarious nature of the songs while learning how they transcended class, gender, literacy level and location during a time of sweeping change across Europe.
“Built on painstaking multilingual research in English, French, Italian, German and Dutch archives, McIlvenna expertly combines visual, textual and lyrical sources to bring to life these popular songs of (often brutal) death.
“Firmly grounded in broader histories of crime and print culture, Singing the News of Death offers an innovative comparative analysis of a cultural phenomenon that was intimately intertwined with European rituals of execution.”