Date of Graduation

Spring 2011


Master of Arts in History



Committee Chair

Brooks Blevins


Sacred Harp, Shiloh Museum, Ozarks, identity construction, shape-note singing, Arkansas

Subject Categories



In 1999, the Shiloh Museum of Ozarks History in Springdale, Arkansas, hosted a singing school to teach the public the rudiments of the 1844 religious songbook The Sacred Harp. While enjoying a long history among Deep South singers, The Sacred Harp has few regional ties to the Ozarks. The goal of this study was to determine why the singers in Springdale adopted The Sacred Harp rather than one of the most popular songbooks in Ozarks religious history, The Christian Harmony. To determine an answer, I first approached Sacred Harp singing in the region from a historical perspective, but was disappointed with the paucity of information. Turning to an ethnographic approach allowed me to solicit the motivations behind participation directly from singers. This method illustrated more clearly the tradition's attraction for these individuals. I determined that the reason for the singers' choice of songbook was based on the accessibility of the Sacred Harp tradition and the sense of belonging created through shared understandings and stated and unstated rules at the local and national level. Interviews, observations, and participation with multiple Sacred Harp groups also revealed that participants help navigate their Sacred Harp experiences through the creation of identity. Finally, because of their group demographic and location, the Shiloh singers, like other singing communities in surround ing states, are outsiders to the original tradition. The Shiloh singers' interactions with the tradition and the national community, then, reflects not only one regional experience but provides a snapshot of all non-southern communities.


© Matthew James Shomaker

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