Elaine Kelly

Job title:

Personal Chair of Music and Politics


Leverhulme Trust Major Research Fellow, 2021-24


Elaine studied at Maynooth University and Queen's University Belfast. Her research focuses on the intersections between music, politics, culture, and intellectual history in nineteenth and twentieth-century Germany. She is particularly interested in the German Democratic Republic, and has published extensively on the relationship between culture and politics in the state. She is author of Composing the Canon in the German Democratic Republic: Narratives of Nineteenth-Century Music (Oxford University Press, 2014), editor together with Amy Wlodarski of Art Outside the Lines: New Perspectives on GDR Art Culture (Rodopi, 2011), and editor with Derek B. Scott and Markus Mantere of Confronting the National in the Musical Past (Routledge, 2018). She has published articles in venues such as the Journal of the American Musicological SocietyOpera QuarterlyKritikaNineteenth-Century Music, Twentieth-Century Music, and Music & Letters.

Her current research is concerned with the global contexts of the GDR. She is working on a monograph that develops a model of how musical diplomacy operated at the peripheries of the Cold War by charting the musical relations that developed between the GDR and various postcolonial countries.

Elaine is co-editor of the Journal of Musicology and a vice president of the Royal Musical Association (2019-23). She was head of the Reid School of Music from 2017-20, and is currently a Leverhulme Trust Major Research Fellow (2021-24), working on a project entitled: “Musical Diplomacy at the Peripheries: East Germany and the Postcolonial World.”

Research interests

  • Music History
  • German Democratic Republic/East Germany
  • Music and International Socialism
  • Transnational/Global Music History
  • Cultural Diplomacy


Elaine is not currently contributing to UG or PGT teaching. She continues to welcome applications for PhD study in areas relating to her research. 


My research interests span a number of broad themes including cultural diplomacy, global socialism, canon reception, music historiography, opera production, and Marxist aesthetics, many of which coalesce in my work on the German Democratic Republic. My current research, funded by a Leverhulme Trust Major Research Fellowship, explores the musical contexts of political relationships that the GDR fostered with postcolonial countries such as Cambodia and Egypt, looking variously at the use of music  as a political tool, the music that evolved from diplomatic endeavors, musical expressions of international solidarity, and the musical activities of international students and workers in the GDR. 

Details of my publications can be viewed on Edinburgh Research Explorer.

PhD Supervision Topics

Accepting applications
  • Music in 20th and 21st-century Germany
  • The Cold War
  • Music diplomacy
  • Global music histories

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