Liverpool's new MA makes Beatlemania a serious subject

·3-min read
British band The Beatles, (from left to right) Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr, George Harrison and John Lennon, during their concert at the Budokan in Tokyo, June 30, 1966.

The Beatles are a serious business in England. So much so that the University of Liverpool has decided to launch a master's degree specifically dedicated to studying the Fab Four's musical legacy. The program includes courses on their musical legacy and their impact on their hometown.

More than 50 years after The Beatles split, Liverpool still feeds off the band's energy, with a museum, a bus tour, a commemorative festival... and now a university degree dedicated to the Fab Four. In September, the University of Liverpool launched "The Beatles: Music Industry and Heritage," a master's degree designed to "extend contemporary discourse about the Beatles beyond the historical and musicological into a broader and more robust 21st-century context." Students taking the course will spend a year immersing themselves in the cultural and economic impact of the Beatles on their home city, through lectures and visits to significant places in the history of the band.

According to The New York Times, one of the first lectures in this master's program focused on the importance of Penny Lane in the heritage of Liverpool. Last summer, several signs in the neighborhood where John Lennon grew up were vandalized during rallies relating to the Black Lives Matter movement. Indeed, as well as sharing a name with a Beatles song, Penny Lane was thought to be named after a slave trader called James Penny, who lived in the 18th century, as suggested by the International Slavery Museum of Liverpool in 2007. The museum has since gone back on this theory, but the controversy underlines just how much Liverpool is, and will always be, the city of The Beatles.

From local lads to subjects of study

The English city has long capitalized on its association with the band. A 2015 Liverpool City Council report estimates that Beatlemania brought in £81.9 million (or $112 million) to the city and created 2,335 jobs. And it's a business that still appears to be booming. The economy linked to the Beatles is growing at a rate of 15% per year. This comes as no surprise for Dr. Mike Jones, professor at the University of Liverpool and member of the Beatles Legacy Group. "Liverpool should be regarded not just as the birthplace of The Beatles, but their cradle. What The Beatles took to the world was, in part, Liverpool's unique culture," he said. "The introduction of The Beatles MA at last gives the University of Liverpool a framework to explore this deep, significant and lasting relationship."

In 2014, Boris Johnson, now the UK's Prime Minister, drew the ire of Liverpudlians when he suggested that London was actually responsible for the success of the Fab Four. "The greatest band in the world was from Liverpool," he said at a talk at the London School of Economics. "But, in the end, they recorded their stuff in London, and it was London that helped propel them around the world." The comments did not sit well with the former mayor of Liverpool, Joe Anderson.

Now, Liverpool's "The Beatles: Music Industry and Heritage" masters program aims to move beyond these regional disputes to establish the impact of John Lennon and his bandmates on many cultural industries. According to the University of Liverpool, students enrolled on this course can hope to find work in the music and media sectors, as well as in tourism and heritage management.

While the idea of dedicating a university degree to the Beatles may sound surprising, it reflects a growing interest in the band among academics. In fact, an academic journal dedicated exclusively to the Beatles will launch in September 2022, under the supervision of Holly Tessler from Liverpool University and Paul Long from Monash University. Evidently, there's a bright future in store for Fab Four in the world of academia.

Caroline Drzewinski

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