Anna Stirr is Associate Professor of Asian Studies at the University of Hawaii Manoa, and the Director of the Center for South Asian Studies. She is the author of Singing Across Divides: Music and Intimate Politics in Nepal (Oxford University Press, 2017), which won the 2019 Bernard S. Cohn Prize for first books on South Asia from the Association for Asian Studies. She holds a BA in music and religious studies from Lawrence University in Wisconsin, and an MA, MPhil, and PhD in ethnomusicology from Columbia University. She has also taught at Oxford University, Leiden University, and the New School. Her research focuses on music, dance, language, intimacy, and politics in South Asia, particularly in Nepal and the Himalayan region. She performs Nepali folk music as a singer, flutist, and percussionist.
Prior to joining the UH faculty, Anna held postdoctoral positions in ethnomusicology and anthropology at Oxford University, and in Asian Studies at Leiden University. As a teacher, Anna is excited to introduce students to the diverse worlds of Asian performing arts, and to broader themes in Asian cultures and history, from various perspectives in the social sciences and humanities.
Anna’s research focuses on South Asia, particularly on Nepal and the Himalayan region. Her current projects deal with music, love, intimacy, and politics in Nepal. Her first book, Singing Across Divides: Music and Intimate Politics in Nepal (winner of the Bernard S. Cohn Prize from the Association for Asian Studies) looks at improvised dohori question-answer songs as culturally intimate, gendered expressions of ideas of nation, belonging, and heritage, within a cycle of migration and media circulation that spans the globe.
Anna’s current research project chronicles the history of Nepal’s politically oppositional “progressive song” from the 1960s to the present, with a focus on ideas of love, development, and communist thought as interrelated ways of imagining a better future. The documentary film Singing A Great Dream: The Revolutionary Songs and Life of Khusiram Pakhrin (2019), produced with Bhakta Syangtan as part of this project, won Best International Documentary and Best International Director at the Darbhanga International Film Festival in India.
Articles from these projects have appeared in various journals and edited volumes. Anna also maintains active research interests in the relationship between music, religion, politics and public culture in South Asia and the Himalayas. She is working on compiling and translating the Nepali folk music teaching materials created by her teachers as well as the late musicologist Subi Shah.
Along with teaching and researching about music, Anna is also active as a performer. After a bachelor’s degree in western classical flute performance, she has studied Hindustani classical bansuri flute with Steve Gorn and Jeevan Ale, and has learned the folk style of bansuri performance through musical interaction with many Nepali performers during her fieldwork. As a singer, she has studied Hindustani classical singing with Prabhu Raj Dhakal in Kathmandu and Ustad Mehboob Nadeem in London. and she learned Nepali folk and dohori song as she learned the flute styles, in the informal oral tradition. During the course of research on Nepali music Anna learned to perform Nepali folk and dohori songs, improvising rhyming couplets in the Nepali language. She also studied the madal drum more formally with Kharka Bahadur Buda Magar. She has had the good fortune to be invited to perform dohori and Nepali instrumental folk music around the world. In recognition of her performance and research, the Ali Miya Lok Wangmaya Pratisthan (Ali Miya Folk Literature Academy) in Pokhara, Nepal, awarded her the 2016 Ali Miya Prize.