You are here

Donna Parsons

Donna Parsons, popular music lecturer
Lecturer, popular music
Office: Phone:

In Memoriam, 1966-2018

Donna S. Parsons is a social and cultural historian. She received a B.M. and M.A. in Music and a Ph.D. in Interdisciplinary Studies with concentrations in music and literature from the University of Iowa. She teaches courses on popular music for the School of Music which include “World of the Beatles,” “Issues in Popular Music: Women Who Rock,” and “Popular Music in the United States.” She also holds a lecturer appointment in the UI Honors Program where she teaches “Harry Potter and the Quest for Enlightenment.”

Donna’s research focuses primarily on the Beatles. Her book project, The Beatles: Fandom, Fervor & the Cultivation of a Legend, analyzes the manifestation of fandom from the rise of Beatlemania through the band’s solo careers. She examines a wide range of primary documents from popular culture such as the Beatles official fan club magazine, teen pop magazines, popular music magazines, daily British newspapers, and counter culture newspapers and magazines as a means to investigate how fans interacted with the band, their music, and with each other. On a broader scope she considers why listeners frequently turned to the Beatles to understand and reflect upon the social, political, and economic turmoil of the 1960s and beyond. Chapter topics include the cultural geography of Liverpool, fan letters published in The Beatles Book, the construction of identity and image in teen pop and music magazines, the band’s cultural currency as deemed by their receiving the MBE in 1965 and the release of “Hey Jude” and “Revolution” in 1968, and the construction of mythology after Lennon’s death in 1980.

Donna’s nineteenth-century research focuses on the musical resonances heard in Michael Field’s writing and more specifically on the ways in which an operatic soundscape influenced the construction of Field’s diaries and dramas. Between the years 1888 and 1914 Michael Field, the pseudonym for Katharine Bradley and Edith Cooper, wrote prodigiously in their diary. In twenty-nine volumes they managed to capture the scintillating elements of an aesthete’s life in England. Their diaries – still in manuscript form – offer a treasure trove of information regarding late Victorian and early Modernist British culture as the two women recount their meetings with other writers, their travels abroad, their attendance at the theatre and opera, and the production of their verses and dramas. 

Donna has spent the past eighteen summers doing archival research in the United Kingdom which is then incorporated into her teaching. Her research is primarily conducted at the British Library (London), but she has also worked in the Royal Academy of Music Archives, Royal College of Music Archives, National Gallery Archives (London), the Bodleian Library (Oxford), and the Public Records Office (Liverpool).

Donna has appeared as a featured guest on Iowa Public Radio’s “Talk of Iowa” program and was an invited speaker at the “Tomorrow Never Knows: The Beatles in Text and Image: Materiality and Meaning Symposium” held at the University of Pennsylvania in spring 2014. She presented “Magical Mythical Tour: In Search of the Beatles” as part of the inaugural Hawkeye Lunch & Learn Lecture Series in 2014 in Des Moines and Iowa City, “‘Letters From Beatle People’: The Beatles Book and the Cultivation of Community” at the International Conference Trans-Atlantic Dialogues on Cultural Heritage, Tourism and Traditions in Liverpool in July 2015, and more recently “The Science of Sgt. Pepper” for Café Scientifique at the Science Center of Iowa.

Recent publications include “Women Who Rock: Trendsetters, One-Hit Wonders, and the Ever-Evolving Cultural Narrative,” in the online Popular Music Pedagogy Series edited by Victor Szabo and “Colonel Snape’s Veritaserum: Teaching Jane Austen in a Harry Potter World” in Teaching Jane Austen: A Romantic Circles Pedagogies Commons Special Issue edited by Emily C. Friedman and Devoney Looser. Her book reviews have appeared in Victorian Studies, Nineteenth-Century Contexts, Journal of the Fantastic in the Arts, and The Latchkey.  She has presented papers at the MLA Annual Convention, the North American Victorian Studies Association Conference, various Biennial Conferences on Music in Nineteenth-Century Britain, the British Women Writers Conference, and several International Conferences on Nineteenth-Century Music held in the United Kingdom. Donna is the 2013 recipient of the Outstanding Honors Teaching Award.  She is also the President of the Alpha of Iowa Chapter of Phi Beta Kappa.