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Combining Cultures Through Music


My name is José Guillermo Puello. I grew up in the Dominican Republic where I went to a French school. When I finished school I came to the UK to study music at university. I recently graduated with a PhD in Composition from the University of Manchester. My research focused on the integration of Dominican music and culture with European contemporary concert music. My thesis consisted of seven original pieces of music, including works for orchestra, for small chamber ensemble, duets and trios. I decided to pursue this area because I wanted my music to reflect my background. As the research progressed, I became interested in how the audience perceived the music and how I could integrate extra-musical elements into my music.

When I started my undergraduate degree, I never thought I was going to do a Master’s degree, let alone a PhD. It was towards the end of my second year that I started to integrate Dominican dance music (i.e. merengue) into my compositions. I continued to develop this throughout my third year and my Master’s. As a result, my style became clearer and my Masters supervisor suggested that I do the doctorate. These past four years doing the PhD provided the opportunity to better define what I want my music to be.

In depth

My doctoral research focused on integrating Dominican cultural elements into my music, building strong musical structures and developing my rhythmic language. To this effect, I researched the music of other Latin American composers, such as Astor Piazzolla, Amadeo Roldán, Tania León, Julio Alberto Hernandez, Alberto Ginastera and Leo Brouwer, to evaluate how they incorporated Latin American elements into their music. I also researched the music of other composers, such as Stravinsky, Birtwistle, Debussy, Bartók, Berio and Ligeti, to understand how other composers dealt with rhythm, folk music and the articulation of musical structures.

The act of composing is not just writing notes on the page but also of listening, studying and problem-solving. I don’t think I know of any composer that just sits down to write the music in their head. I always compare composing to an architect designing a building. It very often starts with a concept/idea that the composer/architect tries to realise using the techniques they have developed and borrowing/adapting the ideas and techniques of others.

During my PhD, my research into Dominican culture mainly influenced the concept of the piece that I was composing. For example, I wrote an orchestral piece based on a religious ritual and another based on a Dominican poem. As I read about the Dominican Republic and its history I realised that the fusion I was creating in my music could be compared to the melting pot of cultures that shaped Dominican history. The music, whilst taking inspiration in Dominican music, is closer in style to the music of European composers (i.e. contemporary classical music) than to merengue or salsa songs.

One of the most gratifying aspects of being a composer is writing for and collaborating with other talented musicians. I have been fortunate enough to have my music performed by a number of professional and amateur ensembles, including Manchester Camerata, Psappha, The Fourth Wall Ensemble and Quatuor Danel, in the UK, Europe, Canada, USA and the Dominican Republic. Furthermore, each new piece brings its own challenges, which provides the opportunity to keep learning and to keep imagining new musical possibilities.

Going further

If you would like to know more about the University of Manchester Music Department and the very active Manchester University Music Society, you can visit the following websites:



You can visit my website: or listen to my music on soundcloud:  

Below are some links to pieces that I have listened to and studied as part of my PhD.

Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring

The video has a five-minute introduction.

Piazzolla’s Adios Nonino

Ligeti’s Trio for Violin, French Horn and Piano

Juan Luis Guerra Todo tiene su hora (merengue song)

Berio’s Sequenza III (for voice)

Birtwistle’s Ritual Fragment

Messiaen’s Et exspecto resurrectionem mortuorum

Debussy’s La mer

Varèse’s Ionisation

Brouwer’s El decameron negro


Witchcraft and demonic possession!

by YPU Admin on July 9, 2015, Comments. Tags: demons, french, history, Humanities, imagery, medieval, Religion, Research, theology, and witchcraft


My name is Tom and I am embarking on a PhD in History at the University of Manchester this autumn. I studied for my BA in History at Manchester and I’m currently finishing my masters in Gender History at the University of Glasgow. In between these courses I spent a year working as an English Language Assistant in two secondary schools in Lille, France. During my undergraduate studies I developed a passion for early modern beliefs about the supernatural and I wrote a dissertation on sixteenth-century French demonological treatises (you could call these witch-hunting manuals!). My research has now taken me to the phenomenon of demonic possession in sixteenth and seventeenth-century France and England, particularly on how possession narratives contributed to the cultural construction of the body.

In Depth

Demonic Possession may seem strange to us now, something you expect to see in a horror film, but during the early modern period it was an extremely important phenomenon. There were perhaps thousands of cases of possession and exorcism across continental Europe, including France, during the early modern period (c. 1500-1800).Young boys and girls, often teenagers or young adults, were recorded as having seizures, possessing unnatural strength, speaking in ‘foreign tongues’, levitating and spitting out objects like pins and nails. There are many cases in France where entire convents of nuns were said to be possessed by the devil. During the Reformation and Counter-Reformation, when Western Christianity split and Protestant churches emerged, demonic possession and exorcism acted as a vehicle of religious propaganda, a way of showing which religious denomination God favoured.

However it was also an important phenomenon for everyday people. Men and women flocked to see public exorcisms in France and there was a booming book trade which centred on stories of demoniacs (a possessed person) which would rival the best Stephen King novel. In this way demonic possession can be viewed as a type of performance, even a form of mass-entertainment. This is where my research centres. I’m interested in why demonic possession was such an important phenomenon in this period but also how it affected other areas of people’s lives. I look at the use of the body within the performance of demonic possession and how it was written about and understood. I use a wealth of documentation left behind, from the trials of witches accused of causing possession, personal and witness testimonies of possessions and exorcisms and the wealth of printed books which distributed these narratives to a mass audience. In doing so I hope to shed light on how beliefs surrounding the supernatural were connected to early modern cultural ideas about the body and the life-cycle.

I developed my interest for this area of history in my final year of undergraduate studies during a module on Witch-Hunting in Early Modern Europe and I was supported by my supervisors in developing this project. Having French language skills made this a viable PhD project and so if I could give one word of advice it would be to learn a language! Not only do languages give you a competitive edge in academia or on the job market but they’re actually pretty fun and (cliché alert) really do take you places. It was fantastic having the opportunity to live in France and practice my French for a year. I gained life-long friends and memories plus I’ve picked up practical skills in the process. It’s never too late to learn either! I started learning Latin this year and in fact your first year at university is the perfect time to experiment. Manchester’s University Language Centre lets you take a language as part of any degree programme. You may not have clicked with French, German or Spanish at school but have you ever thought about Portuguese, Polish, Chinese or even Arabic? Try it and who knows where you’ll end up!

Going Further

There really is a wealth of on-line resources out there on early modern Europe and the Supernatural. Also, in 2016 there will be an exhibition, “Magic and the Expanding Early Modern World”, at John Rylands Library on Deansgate!

15-Minute History: “Demonic Possession” in Early Modern Europe (Podcast) (

The Survey of Scottish Witchcraft (

The Damned Art: The History of Witchcraft and Demonology (Internet Exhibition) (

The Many-Headed Monster (Blog) (

The Pendle Witch Trial (Documentary) (

A helpful website on European Witchcraft (

Women and the Early Modern Witch Hunts (Blog Post) (


Investigating Latin American Culture in Manchester


My name is Nicola and I’m in the third year of a PhD in Latin American Cultural Studies. I did A-levels in Spanish, English Literature and History and went on to study Spanish at the University of St Andrews in Scotland, spending my year abroad in the north of Chile. After returning to Chile for another year to teach English, and then doing a Masters in Latin American Cultural Studies at the University of Manchester, I began my PhD which looks at how members of the British public engage with Latin American culture in the city of Manchester.

In Depth

The first thing to point out about studying Spanish (or any language) at university level is that it’s not just about the language! While your language skills are obviously important and will be developed, you will also spend lots of time studying foreign cultures and how other people around the world live and express themselves. This can involve studying literature, film, music, art, history, religion and indigenous cultures. And, in the case of Spanish, you don’t just study Spain, but also Latin America!

After doing my undergraduate degree and Masters, and living in Chile, I found myself particularly interested in how Latin America is perceived in Britain. Latin American culture, such as salsa classes, music, food and films have become popular in this country over the past couple of decades, yet Latin Americans are a relatively small immigrant population in the UK and not many people travel there, although both have started to increase in recent years. My research therefore investigates how Latin American culture is produced in the city of Manchester and how members of the public consume it.

My research focuses in particular on the annual ¡Viva! Spanish and Latin American Film Festival at the Cornerhouse cinema. I analyse how the film festival is produced, the reasons why they choose some films over others, why they choose particular images to publicise the festival. By interviewing members of the audience, I can find out whether these choices influence the way members of the audience envisage Latin America, or if there are other factors to be considered, such as how the media portrays Latin America. My research also investigates what attracts British people to Latin American culture, especially whether it stems from a cosmopolitan concern to understand others around the world, something particular to Latin American culture and/or disenchantment with contemporary British culture and society.

Going Further

See what you think of the ¡Viva! film festival at their website:

For information on studying Spanish, Portuguese and Latin American Studies at the University of Manchester:

For more information on Latin Americans in the UK, you might like to read this report on the Latin American community in London:


Discovering the New World

by YPU Admin on February 5, 2015, Comments. Tags: Colombia, history, manchester, Research, Sheffield, sixteenth century, and South America


My name is Rachel Winchcombe and I’m a second year history PhD student at the University of Manchester. I completed my undergraduate and master’s degrees at the University of Sheffield, both of which were in history, specialising in the early modern period (c. 1500-1800). After leaving university I spent six months living and working in Bogotá in Colombia. It was during this time that I became interested in South American history and how the discovery of the lands of America affected Europeans. After returning to England, I decided to apply for a PhD that looked at the ways in which America was incorporated into English thought in the sixteenth century, and that is now what I’m spending three years of my life researching!

In depth

On the 12th of October 1492, Christopher Columbus first set foot on the hitherto unknown shores of the land that would become known as America. For early modern Europeans who were convinced that their knowledge of the world was complete, the discovery of these new lands must have been a huge shock. Indeed, Columbus refused to acknowledge their novelty, claiming until his death that the lands he had found were part of Asia. It was not until the completion of Amerigo Vespucci’s voyage to the New World that the idea of a ‘mundus novas’ (new world) became established. With the realisation that America represented a new and different land came a new problem. How was America and her inhabitants to be explained? It is this question that my PhD hopes to answer.

Explaining the existence of America and millions of Amerindians was no easy task. To begin with, when constructing an image of the New World, Englishmen and women relied on accounts of America written by continental authors and their own Old World knowledge of geography, cosmology and ethnography. For example, descriptions of America printed in England compared Americans to the monstrous races that the Roman natural historian Pliny the Elder had identified whilst journeying around the world in the first century AD.  Europeans also connected the people and land of America to the biblical account of the dispersal of mankind, and to Greek legends such as the lost island of Atlantis. Despite this attempt to assimilate America into the history and belief systems of the Old World, it is also clear from these early descriptions of the encounter that Europeans recognised the novelty of the new lands across the Atlantic. English representations of America were essentially a complicated mix of Old World tradition and New World experience. By looking at various aspects of Native American life, such as warfare, clothing and religion, my PhD will trace this tension between the power of the old and the pull of the new.

Going further

Visit European History Online for an introduction to the European ‘Age of Expansion’.

Visit the British Library’s image database to see the various ways that exploration has been illustrating through history.

The Hakluyt Society provides information and articles relating to all aspects of travel, exploration and cultural encounter.


Writing a History of History

by YPU Blog on January 8, 2015, Comments. Tags: history, holocaust, judaism, manchester, memory, museum, poland, Research, and Sociology


Hi, I'm Janek and I'm a historian, sort of. I specialise in memory studies. I research how people remember the past and why the way they imagine it changes. You could say I write a history of history. After all, what we write as historians changes the perception of the past the most. You could also say that what I do is not history at all, that it's sociology or cultural science. It's very confusing, even for me!

But let’s pretend I'm a historian. After all, I did graduate in history from Jagiellonian University in Krakow, Poland. Then, two years ago, I moved to Manchester to do a PhD here. I do memory studies and, in particular, I look at how the Holocaust was remembered in my home town, Krakow.

In Depth

But what does it really mean? One of my case studies is an old Jewish Town in Krakow. For years, it lied neglected but, in the past couple of decades, it has turned into one of the most popular and fashionable spots in the City. Think Castlefield. It's like Castlefield without the canals and with synagogues instead. In my research, I try to find some traces of Jewish heritage in this now fashionable area. I look at how the Jewish relics have changed over time and how they have contributed to making the place so popular.

My other case is the local history museum, like the Imperial War Museum. The History museum in Krakow has always had an exhibition about Jewish history, but, only a couple of years ago, it was turned into the most important part of the museum and its biggest attraction.  How did this happen? What did curators tell us about Jewish history at the old exhibitions and what do they tell us now? And my favorite set of questions: Why do we believe them? What do they do to back up the story they tell? How do they convince us that what they say is important?

The best part of my project is that it can actually make a difference. People often think that writing about the past is not important for the present; Scientists change lives, not historians. But with a project like mine it’s different. I get to talk to museum curators and  planners and show them my findings. So there is a good chance that next time when you go to museum in Krakow you will see an exhibition with my ideas in it!

Going Further

If you're interested in history museums: or here

And if you want to read more about the cool old Jewish District:,artykul,zydowski_krakow.html