Professor in the Department of History and Art History, George Mason University momalle3@gmu.edu

From Philadelphia, PA. Research interests: Mostly in the era from 1865-1919. History of music, history of technology, history of money and exchange, digital media and digital history, history of immigration and family history

In 2022 I published a book on the life of Francis O’Neill. O’Neill left Ireland at 17, and worked as an itinerant sailor for four years, He wound up as a cop in Chicago, eventually rising to Chief of police by 1901. He was also obsessed with Irish folk music, and used his authority as chief to compile several huge collection of tunes, The book, The Beat Cop: Francis O’Neill and the Invention of Irish Music was published by the University of Chicago in May 2022, looks at immigration and culture making, focusing on the relationship between collecting and policing.

In Fall of 2024 the University of Chicago Press will publish The Color of Family: History, Race and the Politics of Ancestry, based partly on the fact that two of my ancestors, one born in Ireland were declared to be colored people by the state of Virginia. The book teases out the various changes made to citizens’ names and relationships over the years, and how they affected families as they navigated what it meant to be “white,” “colored,” “mixed race,” and more. It explores the interplay of genealogy and history, showing how the documents that establish identity came about, and how private companies like Ancestry.com increasingly supplant state and federal authorities—and not for the better.

I’m currently researching a book on the relationship between music and machines, focusing on the esthetic preference for uniformity. Musical practice is very machine-like, demanding repetition and consistent, repeatable results. Music and machines have alwsy had a close relationship.

My colleague Matt Karush and I, with a lot of help, made an NEH-funded website, Hearing the Americas, that contextualizes and explains early twentieth century pop music.


BA Temple University in History and American Studies.

MA and Ph.D University of California, Berkeley.

Taught at

NYU 1988-1990, postdoc and visiting prof

Vassar College, 1990-1994

George Mason University, 1994-present

Selected Publications

Keeping Watch: A History of American Time (Viking/Penguin 1990)

Face Value: The Entwined Histories of Money and Race in America (Chicago 2012)

The Beat Cop: Francis O’Neill and the Invention of Irish Music (Chicago 2022)]

The Color of Family: History, Race and the Politics of Ancestry (Chicago, 2024)

Recent articles 

“’The Ten Dollar Founding Father’: Hamilton, Money and Federal Power,” in Claire Potter and Renee Romano, Historians on Hamilton: How a Blockbuster Musical is Restaging America’s Past (New Brunswick, NJ 2018).

“Dark Enough as It Is: Eddie Lang and the Minstrel Cycle,” in The Journal of Social History September 2018

“Like an Imposter, Through the Ranks of Good Society: Shinplasters and Everyday Life in the Antebellum US,” forthcoming in Nigel Dodd and Federico Neiburg eds. A Cultural History of Money in the Age of Empires (London, Bloomsbury, 2019)

Recent projects

With Mathew Karush and the Rosenzweig Center for History and New Media, “Hearing the Americas.

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