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Giannetti, F., Kijas, A. (2016). A DH-Leavened Musicological Toolbox. In Digital Humanities 2016: Conference Abstracts. Jagiellonian University & Pedagogical University, Kraków, pp. 796-797.
A DH-Leavened Musicological Toolbox

A DH-Leavened Musicological Toolbox

In 1996, Don Michael Randel wrote a chapter entitled “ The Canons in the Musicology Toolbox,” which examined “a common set of techniques that every dissertation and scholarly article employs” a type of “musicological interface” or “toolbox” that addresses the issues of theoretical and methodological consistency across the discipline, and, in theory, reduces the time and effort spent on producing the scholarly output (Randel, 1996:10). Fifteen years after Randel’s chapter was published, Zoe Lang reexamined his original concept in a post entitled “ Today’s Musicological Toolbox,” in which she asks that we imagine afresh this concept of the “musicological toolbox” (Lang, 2010). Her argument was that a customized toolbox of both specialized and general tools would be required for producing a diverse range of musicological scholarship. The training of the musicologist should thus include as many of the specialized and generalist tools as possible, with the aim of creating a common ground with scholars of other disciplines, allowing the musicologist to move beyond the boundaries of her academic discipline. In the past twenty years, skills once considered general and essential (music notation) have given ground to areas of specialization like popular music and feminist readings. As in other humanistic disciplines, musicologists consider postcolonial and identity theories, together with the more “native” topics of music analysis and Western “art” repertories.

If we were to reimagine the “musicological toolbox” yet again, how would we do so from a digital humanities and/or information science perspective? What tools should be added to a customizable “musicological toolbox” such that students and faculty become proficient in applying a set of techniques that may eventually become commonplace to all humanistic disciplines? Are there specific misapprehensions to be wary of when appropriating tools created for other academic fields? Can an incubator approach be tolerated to make room for learning and experimentation, without requiring formal, publishable results? Finally, how does one make room for collaboration in a discipline that is still largely driven by individual scholarly endeavor?

As librarians who study and practice both digital humanities and musicology, we use certain tools and methods that we propose be part of a DH musicological toolbox. These include free and open source tools for data capture, cleaning and formatting, geospatial, temporal and network analysis, as well as tools for data enhancement and encoding (i.e. metadata and text/music encoding).

We propose that concepts and methods core to digital humanities, as well information science, should be introduced into the musicological toolbox to expand students’ abilities and understanding beyond the boundaries of musicology. These include:

  • Digital curation and publishing
  • Metadata standards and schemas
  • Information architecture (i.e. relational databases, indexing)
  • Close reading and content analysis (i.e. encoding (text/music), transcription, analyses)
  • Graph theory
  • Spatial and temporal analysis
  • Exploratory data analysis for framing scholarly arguments

Training students and scholars in all of these concepts or tools may not be feasible, however as it is important for musicologists to be introduced to methods, such as historiography, paleography, or musical analysis, it is also important that they are introduced to the concepts and methods used in digital humanities work, which will allow them to push the boundaries of musicological research and build an understanding around developing scholarship or research projects in a digital mode.

Drawing from our own experiences, first as musicology students, and now as librarians, we will demonstrate how these concepts may be applied to musicological research using our current projects as case studies, Documenting Teresa Carreño (Kijas) and an analysis of librettist Felice Romani’s I due Figaro (Giannetti). In addition, we will demonstrate some of the rewards and challenges of blending the information science, musicology and digital humanities perspectives.

In Documenting Teresa Carreño, a project focused on the performance career of Teresa Carreño (1853-1917), a Venezuelan pianist and composer, Kijas curates metadata and content in Omeka to document Carreño's key performances between 1862 and 1917. An understanding of concepts and methods related to metadata standards, musicological research, as well as, digital curation and publishing, are especially relevant to this project. Giannetti’s project analyzes Felice Romani’s I due Figaro alongside its French source play, Les deux Figaro. The concepts and methods applicable to her project include close reading, OCR, text transcriptions, network, data and text analysis. These two case studies demonstrate a data-enhanced view of the musicological toolkit in which findings drawn from traditional approaches (archival studies, bibliography, close reading) are challenged and supplemented by digital concepts and methods. Although not without its complement of additional labor and uncertainty, this DH-leavened musicological toolkit compensates by improving one’s understanding of sources, enhancing digital literacies, and raising the chances of finding intra- or inter-departmental collaborators.

  1. Randel, D. M. (1992). The Canons in the Musicological Toolbox. In Bergeron, Katherine and Philip V. Bohlman (Eds.), Disciplining Music: Musicology and Its Canons. University of Chicago Press.