SOAS University of London

Department of Music, School of Arts

Tom Peterson

BA (Sussex), MMus (SOAS)
  • Research


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Tom Peterson
Email address:
Thesis title:
Archives of Sri Lanka's Musical Legacies: The Sindu, Kavi, and Sivupada Song Texts of the Nevill Collection as Refractions of Sri Lanka and its Musical Practices, Past and Present
Year of Study:
Internal Supervisors


Tom Peterson is a current Doctoral Researcher and CHASE scholar at SOAS University of London researching music collecting in 19th-century Sri Lanka. In particular, he is looking at the work of Hugh Nevill (1847–1897) and the means and motivations that led to his cavernous collection of song-texts. Prior to beginning his PhD, he earned an MMus Ethnomusicology degree from SOAS and a BA Hons. in Professional Musicianship from Sussex University. He is also a semi-professional musician and one quarter of the electronic music ensemble Kudu Blue, who have performed at Glastonbury and featured on BBC Radio 1.

PhD Research

At the heart of my PhD is the Hugh Nevill collection of Sinhala manuscripts housed at the British Library. Nevill, a British judge working in 19th-century Sri Lanka, amassed a vast collection of manuscripts, several hundred of which contain sung forms of poetry. These song texts range from the 16th to the late 19th century, offering a broad historical span of sources. My research takes Nevill’s collection as a lens that offers glimpses into the life-worlds in which these song texts were born. Through these portals, I aim to establish sonic, ethnographic and historic features of the genres that they represent. Through periods of fieldwork among contemporary performers of these genres, oral histories will be sought to provide balance to the colonial, 19th-century archive.

Additionally, I will question Nevill’s means and motivations for collecting these song-texts. What did it mean for Nevill to collect in 19th-century Sri Lanka, how did he collect these song texts and what purposes did his collection serve? The answers to these questions will be used to consider the connections between Nevill’s practices and the broader British, Colonial, Sri Lankan, South Asian, musical and collecting contexts of his era. As a result, the conclusions of this research should contribute new perspectives and data for debates on these subjects and the spaces between them.


  • Ethnomusicology
  • History
  • South Asia
  • Sinhala
  • Colonialism