skip to primary navigationskip to content

Dr Ruth Davis

Dr Ruth  Davis

Reader in Ethnomusicology

Corpus Christi College
Cambridge CB2 1RH
Office Phone: 01223 335186


Ruth Davis is University Reader in Ethnomusicology and a Fellow of Corpus Christi College where she is also Director of Studies in Music. She publishes, teaches and broadcasts on music of North Africa, the Middle East and the wider Mediterranean with principal research areas in mainland Tunisia, the island of Jerba, Israel and Mandatory Palestine. She has also carried out fieldwork in Peru, Iraq, Uzbekistan and the UK. She studied piano performance at the Royal Academy of Music and took a BMus degree at King’s College London, before embarking on graduate studies in ethnomusicology at the University of Amsterdam and in Music and Middle Eastern Studies at Princeton University where she received her PhD in 1986.

Her research on the Arab-Andalusian music of Tunisia (ma’lūf) focuses on nationalism and cultural policy, canonisation, orality and literacy and the interface between art, popular and sacred practice, among other topics. Related projects include Middle Eastern and Central Asian modal theory and practice and Jewish sacred and popular song. Her recent studies on the historic role of Jewish musicians in Tunisian popular song and the annual pilgrimage of Israeli Jews to Jerba focus on concepts of diaspora and homeland and music in cultural memory. Her work on Robert Lachmann’s Oriental Music Archive in Mandatory Palestine explores relationships between ethnomusicology, broadcasting and nationalist ideology, and the historiography of oral musical traditions of the eastern Mediterranean. In 2010 she was a Rockefeller Foundation scholar in residence at the Bellagio Center, Italy, and she is spending the 2010-11 academic year as a Fellow of the Institute of Sacred Music, Yale University, where she is working on the project ‘Music at the Mediterranean Crossroads of the Abrahamic Faiths’.

Thesis topics (co-)supervised since 2000 include:


Paraliturgical songs of Babylonian Jewry and Arabo-Islamic culture and religion;
Music of the Irish diaspora in post-war Birmingham;
Soviet and post-Soviet models of musical nationalism in West and Central Asia;
Western Syrian Orthodox chant;
Traditional musical practices of the rebec in Cantabria;
Technology, Human creativity and temporality in Icelandic and Swedish popular music culture;
Yiddish song from 1945 to the present day;
Music and meaning: the duduk of Armenia and the mey of Turkey;
Micro-music of the Ottoman Empire: the case of the Phanariot Greeks of Istanbul.


Tourism, nationalism and museumism in contemporary Cuba;
Mugam and national identity in post-independence Azerbaijan;
Concerts for tourists in Venice as musical multimedia;
Music in the Taiping Heavenly Kingdom;
The beautiful grasslands: folk song, imagination and identity in urban inner Mongolia;
Contemporary composition and performance in the fiddle tradition of the Shetland Isles;
Syrian Orthodox chant in Sadad: A narrative of continuity and change;
Identity, history and representation: Political songs of Tibetan refugees in Nepal;
The makamlar and the Turkman dutar.

Departments and Institutes

Corpus Christi College:
Director of Studies in Music

Key Publications


Al-Andalus and its Jewish Diasporas: Musical Exodus. Europea Series, Scarecrow Press. (Forthcoming.)

2013 Robert Lachmann, The "Oriental Music" Broadcasts, 1936-1937. A Musical Ethnography of Mandatory Palestine. With accompanying CD set of digitally restored recordings. Recent Researches in the Oral Traditions of Music Series. Madison MA: A-R Editions.  

2004 Ma’luf. Reflections on the Arab Andalusian Music of Tunisia. Lanham MD; Oxford: Scarecrow Press.

Journal articles, book chapters (selected since 1990)

2013                ‘Music in the Mirror of Multiple Nationalisms: Sound Archives and Ideology in Israel and Palestine.’ In Philip V. Bohlman, ed., The Cambridge History of World Music. Cambridge: CUP.

2012    ‘Translating “Music of Foreign Nations”. Perspectives of a Comparative Musicologist in Mandatory Palestine’. Journal of Mediterranean Studies 21, 2: 261-276.

2010a ‘Picken’s “Prestigious Artefacts” and the Legacy of Comparative Musicology: An Appreciation of Folk Musical Instruments of Turkey’. Ethnomusicology Forum 19: 223–30.

2010b ‘Ethnomusicology and Political Ideology in Mandatory Palestine: Robert Lachmann’s “Oriental Music” Projects’. Music and Politics 4, 2: 1–15. (Peer-reviewed online journal:

2010c ‘Time, Place and Memory: Music for a North African Jewish Pilgrimage’. In Erik Levi and Florian Scheding eds., Music and (Dis)placement. Lanham MD: Scarecrow Press, 71–88.

2009a ‘Jews, Women, and the Power to be Heard: Charting the Early Tunisian Ughniyya to the Present Day’. In Laudan Nooshin, ed., Music and the Play of Power in North Africa, Middle East and Central Asia. Ashgate, 187–206.

2009b ‘Time, Place, and Jewish music: Mapping the Multiple Journeys of Andik bahriyya, ya rais’. In Philip V. Bohlman and Marcello Sorce Keller, eds., The Musical Anthropology of the Mediterranean: Interpretation, Performance, Identity. In Memory of Tullia Magrini. Bologna: CLUEB, 47–58.

2007 ‘Mizrakh, Jewish Music and the Journey to the East’. In Martin Clayton and Bennett Zon, eds., Portrayal of the East. Music and the Oriental Imagination in the British Empire. Ashgate, 95–125. (Co-authored with Philip V. Bohlman)

2006 ‘Pesrev, Bashraf and Msaddar: the Ottoman Legacy in the Tunisian Ma’luf’. In J. Elsner and G. Jahnichen, eds., Maqam Traditions of Turkic Peoples. Berlin: Trafo Verlag, 31–42.

2005a ‘Robert Lachmann’s Oriental Music: A broadcasting initiative in 1930s Palestine’. In D. Cooper and K. Dawe, eds., Music of the Mediterranean: Critical Perspectives, Common Concerns, Cultural Differences. Lanham MD: Scarecrow Press (Rowman and Littlefield), 79–96.

2005b ‘Tunisia’. (Co-authored with Richard C. Jankovsky). In J. Shepherd, D. Horn, D. Laing, eds., Africa and the Middle East, Continuum Encyclopedia of Popular Music of the World 6. London: Continuum Publishing, 76-81.

2003 ‘New Sounds, Old Tunes. Tunisian Media Stars Re-interpret the Ma’luf’. In G. Plastino, ed., Mediterranean Mosaic. Popular Music and Global Sounds. New York: Routledge, 121–41.

2002a ‘Al-Andalus in Tunis: Sketches of the Ma’luf in the 1990s’. In Music and Anthropology 7. Journal of Music and Anthropology of the Mediterranean: 1– 23. (Peer-reviewed online journal promoted by the International Council for Traditional Music.)

2002b ‘The Use of Western Notation in Tunisian Art Music’. In V. Danielson, S. Marcus and D. Reynolds, eds., The Middle East. The Garland Encyclopedia of World Music 6. New York: Routledge, 325–37.

2002c ‘Baron Rodolphe d’Erlanger’. In op. cit., 501–3.

2002d ‘Patronage and Policy in Tunisian Art Music’. In op. cit., 505–13.

2002e ‘Music of the Jews of Djerba, Tunisia’. In op. cit., 523–31.

2002f Review essay. ‘Y. Kojaman. The Maqam Music Tradition of Iraq’. British Journal of Ethnomusicology 11: 163–70.

2001a ‘Mode V.2. Middle East and Central Asia: Maqam, Makam’. In S. Sadie and J. Tyrrell, eds., The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians 16. 2nd Edition. London: Macmillan, 831–37; 858–59.

2001b ‘Tunisia I. Urban Musical Traditions’. In op. cit., 25, 888–92; 893–94.

1999a ‘Piyyut melodies as Mirrors of Social Change in Hara Kebira, Jerba’. In Y. K. Stillman and N. A. Stillman, eds., From Iberia to Diaspora. Leiden: Brill, 477–95.

1999b ‘Trends in Tunisian Musical Scholarship: a Critical Survey’. In N. Ceribasic and G. Marosevic, eds., Music, Folklore and Culture. Essays in Honour of Jerko Bezic. Zagreb: Institute for Ethnology and Folklore Research, 133–44.

1998 ‘Songs of the Jews on the Island of Djerba, Tunisia’. In J. Weerdenburg, H. Talsma and S. Timmerman, eds., Joodse Cultuur (Jewish Culture). Universiteit Utrecht, Bureau Studium Generale, 99–108.

1997a ‘Cultural Policy and the Tunisian Ma'luf: Redefining a Tradition’. Ethnomusicology 41:1–21.

1997b ‘Traditional Arab Music Ensembles in Tunis: Modernizing Al-Turath in the Shadow of Egypt’. Asian Music 28: 73–108.

1997c ‘Reinterpreting Songs of the Past: Ma'luf Ensembles in Tunisia since the 1930s’. Musica e Storia 5: 215–28.

1996a ‘The Arab-Andalusian Music of Tunisia’. Early Music 24: 423–37.

1996b ‘The Art/Popular Music Paradigm and the Tunisian Ma’luf’. Popular Music, Middle East Volume 15: 313–23.

1996c ‘Introduction’. (M. Stokes and R. Davis). Popular Music, Middle East Volume 15: 255–57.

1995 ‘Teaching Ethnomusicology in Cambridge’. In M. Lieth-Philipp and A. Gutzwiller, eds., Teaching Musics of the World. Proceedings of the Second International Symposium in Basel, 1993. Affalterbach: Philipp Verlag, 50–55.

1993a ‘Melodic and Rhythmic Genre in the Tunisian Nuba’. In Ethnomusicologica II. Atti del VI European Seminar in Ethnomusicology, Siena, 1989. Quaderni Dell'Accademia Chigiana 45: 71–109.

1993b ‘Tunisia and the Cairo Congress of Arab Music, 1932’. The Maghreb Review 18: 135–44.

1992a ‘The Tunisian Nuba as Cyclic Genre: a Performance Analysis’. In J. Elsner and G. Jahnichen, eds., Regionale maqam-Traditionen in Geschichte und Gegenwart 1. Materialien der 2. Arbeitstagung der Study Group ‘maqam’ des International Council for Traditional Music, Berlin, 83–114.

1992b ‘Report on the Second Meeting of the ICTM Study Group on Maqam’. The World of Music 34, 2: 105–7.

1992c ‘The Effects of Notation on Performance Practice in Tunisian Art Music’. The World of Music 34, 1: 85–114.

1992d ‘Ethnomusicology Today: An Introduction’. The Musical Times 133: 8–9.

1991 ‘Tourists, Traders and Buskers: The Craft Market as Venue for the Street Musician’. Musikethnologische Sammelbande 12: 95–100.

1990 Review essay. ‘Taarab, the Music of Zanzibar, 1–2. Globe Style Records, 1988’. Ethnomusicology 34: 187–92.

Articles in other specialist publications

1997 ‘Egypt: Down by the Nile’. In Songs of the Earth. Supplement to Gramophone (November): 8–10.

1996 ‘Arab Art Music in North Africa’. In World Music. Supplement to Gramophone (April): 24–26.

1991 ‘Songs of the Jews of Jerba’. In Tunisian Affairs 15: 10–12.

‘Music to Trance to: the Mahlouf’. In Dorothy Stannard, ed., Tunisia. APA Insight Guides, 88–91.


Guest co-editor. Ruth Davis and Martin Stokes. Popular Music 15. Middle East Issue (1996).

Series editor. ‘Ethnomusicology Today’. The Musical Times (1992).

Faculty of Music on Twitter