Boynton, Susan 1966–

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Boynton, Susan 1966–


Born September 14, 1966. Education: Yale University, B.A., 1988, M.A., 1990; Universite Catholique de Louvain-la-Neuve, Belgium, Diplome d'etudes medievales, 1992; Brandeis University, M.F. A., 1996, Ph.D., 1997.


Office—Department of Music, MC 1813, Columbia University, 2960 Broadway, New York, NY 10027. E-mail—[email protected]


Musicologist, educator, writer, and editor. Columbia University, New York, NY, faculty member in the Department of Music, 2000—, previously taught at the University of Oregon.


Phillip and Ruth Hettleman Award, School of General Studies, 2003; Hettleman Summer Faculty Development Fellowship, Columbia University, 2003; Lewis Lockwood Award, American Musicological Society, c. 2007, for Shaping a Monastic Identity. Also recipient of several grants, including Fulbright scholarships (two), a Rome Prize, and a grant from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada.


(Editor, with Isabelle Cochelin) From Dead of Night to End of Day: The Medieval Customs of Cluny, Brepolsw (Turnhout, Belgium), 2005.

(Editor, with Roe-Min Kok) Musical Childhoods & the Cultures of Youth, Wesleyan University Press (Middletown, CT), 2006.

Shaping a Monastic Identity: Liturgy and History at the Imperial Abbey of Farfa, 1000-1125, Cornell University Press (Ithaca, NY), 2006.

Contributor to books, including Medieval Monastic Education, edited by Carolyn Muessig and George Ferzoco, Leicester University Press, 2000; Woman's Song: Cross-cultural Perspectives, edited by Ann Marie Rasmussen and Anne Klinck, University of Pennsylvania Press, 2001; and The Use and Abuse of Time in Christian History, edited by R.N. Swanson, Blackwell, 2002. Contributor to periodicals, including Studia Liturgica, Viator: Medieval and Renaissance Studies, Scriptorium, Studi medievali, Journal of Medieval Latin, Traditio, and the Journal of the American Musicological Society. General editor of the interdisciplinary series "Disciplina Monastica: Studies on Medieval Monastic Life/Etudes sur la vie monastique au moyen age," Brepols Publishers (Belgium), and coauthor of the Web site Celebrating the Liturgy's Books: Medieval and Renaissance Manuscripts in New York City.


Susan Boynton is a musicologist whose interests include liturgical music in medieval Western monasticism, particularly the abbeys of Cluny and Farfa; monastic education; and the role of women in medieval song. She is editor with Isabelle Cochelin of From Dead of Night to End of Day: The Medieval Customs of Cluny, which features articles describing daily life and liturgy at the abbey of Cluny. At the heart of the various articles and their discussions are four customaries that were compiled over the course of nearly a hundred years beginning at the end of the tenth century. Of the fourteen essays by European and North American historians, five are in French.

Boynton is also editor with Roe-Min Kok of Musical Childhoods & the Cultures of Youth. "Filled with interesting stories, this cross-cultural collection of essays viewing music through the lens of childhood spans ten centuries, four continents and many distinct repertories and cultural practices," wrote Myrna Capp in American Music Teacher. The book's ten essays primarily examine how children are socialized into the musical life of their communities, addressing such wide-ranging subjects as choirboys in early modern Seville, the Griot culture of West Africa, and Jewish youth at summer camp. In the process, contributors reveal childhood as a time when individual identities are forged through music. The book's three sections are "Ritual Performance," which focuses on ritual from medieval through modern times; "Identity Formation," which examines how self is formed during youth; and "Musical Socialization," which includes a look at topics such as the changing German folk songs and their use by the Third Reich, and various stages of children's music in Japan.

In her 2006 book, Shaping a Monastic Identity: Liturgy and History at the Imperial Abbey of Farfa, 1000-1125, the author examines one of the most powerful institutions on the Italian peninsula during the eleventh and early twelfth centuries. During this time, the Abbey of Farfa came to hold power over many of the lands of central Italy, enjoying the protection of the emperor.

"An imperial abbey independent of the popes and local bishops, it possessed extensive landholdings and a strategic position overlooking the valleys on the way to Rome," Boynton writes in the book's introduction. "The abbey enjoyed an unusually privileged position from its founding in 705 until 1122, when it began to come under increasing papal control as a result of the Concordant of Worms. Historians have attributed Farfa's exceptional importance to the political diligence of its abbots. These enterprising men pursued astute strategies of land management and repeatedly solicited confirmations of the monastery's property and privileges from the Lombard, Frankish, Carolingian, Ottonian, and Salian rulers to whom the abbey was successively subject."

During the abbey's era as an influential religious center, the monks of Farfa filled their time with the celebration of the liturgy through prayers, processions, chants, sermons, and hymns. In her book, the author addresses several major themes of present-day medieval historiography by offering a close study of the liturgical practices of the abbey of Farfa. She presents a clear and striking demonstration of the local nature of liturgical practices in the centuries before the church ritual became controlled and codified by the papacy. "As a musicologist, she emphasizes how music and liturgy shed light on the daily and yearly ritual cycles of Farfa, and how these media reflect the abbey's network of power and its modes of expressing and consolidating its multiple identities," wrote Mary Stroll in American Historical Review.

In her book, the author reveals that the liturgy was highly flexible and that the monks continually adapted it to the monastery's changing circumstances depending on who the ruling authority might be. Regularly modifying traditional forms of the liturgy to reflect new realities, the monks often made their adaptations to further service Farfa's power and prestige. The author also examines how the monastery often rewrote its own history, such as the history of its founding, as part of the continuous negotiation of power that played a central role in medieval politics and culture. The book includes a map, tables, figures, and four appendixes. Latin of the musical texts is printed on one side and English translations appear on the opposite page. The author also includes reproductions of several manuscripts designed to highlight neumes, which are signs used in the notation of plainsong during the Middle Ages and survive in transcriptions of Gregorian chants.

"Susan Boynton's book is original, interesting, meticulously researched, and cogently argued," wrote Thomas F.X. Noble in Church History, adding later in the same review: "Monastic identity was hammered out in prayer. This has long been known but rather neglected in some recent scholarship that has stressed more mundane (literally!) secular, social, political forces. What Boynton does is redress the balance." Sam Barrett wrote in the Journal of Ecclesiastical History that the author's "never less than thought-provoking work merits serious consideration."



Boynton, Susan, Shaping a Monastic Identity: Liturgy and History at the Imperial Abbey of Farfa, 1000-1125, Cornell University Press (Ithaca, NY), 2006.


American Historical Review, December, 2006, review of Musical Childhoods & the Cultures of Youth, p. 1649; February, 2007, Mary Stroll, review of Shaping a Monastic Identity: Liturgy and History at the Imperial Abbey of Farfa, 1000-1125, p. 259.

American Music Teacher, February-March, 2007, Myrna Capp, review of Musical Childhoods & the Cultures of Youth, p. 81.

Church History, March, 2007, Thomas F.X. Noble, review of Shaping a Monastic Identity, p. 165.

English Historical Review, April, 2007, G.A. Loud, review of Shaping a Monastic Identity, p. 521.

Journal of Ecclesiastical History, October, 2007, Sam Barrett, review of Shaping a Monastic Identity, p. 738.

Music & Letters, February, 2008, Barry Cooper, review of Musical Childhoods & the Cultures of Youth, p. 124.

Reference & Research Book News, August, 2006, review of From Dead of Night to End of Day: The Medieval Customs of Cluny.


Columbia University Music Department Web site, (June 23, 2008), faculty profile of author.

Columbia University Web site, (June 23, 2008), faculty profile of author.