Cristina Ruotolo

Cristina Ruotolo

( She/Her/Hers )
Professor, Chair
Humanities, BA and MA Coordinator; American Studies, Program Coordinator
Location: HUM 487
Office Hours:
Tue: 2:00 p.m. - 4:00 p.m.or by appointment

I'm a professor in the Humanities program, where I teach undergraduate and graduate courses on American culture, music and society; literary and musical modernisms; literary and cultural theory; and, when I get a chance, the culture and history of New Orleans. Since Fall 2022, I've served as chair of the department of Humanities and Comparative World Lit.

My scholarly work has focused on music's place in American cultures and imaginations. In a series of articles and then my first book, Sounding Real: Musicality and American Literature at the Turn of the Twentieth Century, I explore a pivotal moment in American music as it was registered by and in American fiction. With the rise of Tin Pan Alley, ragtime, "Indianist" composers, and American institutions of classical music, I argue, came new and often conflicting ideas about music's power to express and produce American cultural identities, particularly in relation to race, nation, and gender/sexuality.

More recently, I've moved from thinking about the representation of musicality to thinking about its formation. How do people, cultures, and subcultures become musical? I am interested in what forms of musical literacy are available in particular times and places and how different forms of literacy are promoted, abandoned, or suppressed. These questions have informed work on a new book (tentatively called Democratizing Music: Émigré European Modernists and American Musical Literacy) that traces the efforts of a group of avant-garde émigré musicians to inform and reform American musical literacy in the decade immediately following their arrival in the 1930s.

During 2018/19 I was a Fulbright Scholar/Teacher at the University of Ghana in Legon (Accra). While officially I taught BA and MA courses in American Literature for the English department, I ended up spending much of my time there teaching violin and chamber music, conducting the University of Ghana string ensemble, and performing with members of the burgeoning Ghanaian classical music community.  While there, I began a blog with the idea of one day writing more formally about the experience.

My interest in music stems from my lifelong practice as a violinist and chamber musician. I have a Masters in Music Performance from the New England Conservatory and worked professionally in various orchestras before deciding, in part because of repetitive injuries to my hand, to switch gears and head back to school. I received my Ph.D. from Yale in English Literature in 1997, and have been teaching at SF State ever since.