Faculty create innovative archive of American music with NEH grant

October 18, 2021

RESEARCH & INNOVATION

As coverage of American music increasingly goes digital, historians don’t have access to a paper trail to track local artists. Music professors Joanna Love and Andy McGraw have received a grant to try and change that.

“Music scholars rely on archives of newspapers and magazines to tell them about the past,” Love said. “Now that information is disseminated online, it’s a problem that most is not captured, archived, or made available in an easily searchable format. Without a reliable digital archive to consult, we have an inaccurate picture of what music is thriving today.”

The two music professors were awarded nearly $50,000 in grant funding for their project “America’s Music Scenes in the Age of Social Media.” This project addresses a growing concern about how future scholars will be able to access and assess the musical landscape of 21st century music making now that most publicity circulates online instead of in traditional print venues.

The way people listen to music is constantly changing, McGraw explained, and historians need a simple way to access information about how music is growing in local communities.

“We are working with humanists and programmers to explore ways to collect, archive, and make explorable music event data from online and social media sources,” McGraw said. “Without developing this archive, our understanding of America’s current music scenes is deeply fragmentary, biased, and dependent upon private companies.”

Through a Digital Humanities Advancement Grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities, Love and McGraw will coordinate a series of workshops designed to identify the best methods for collecting and archiving data for music events promoted online. Then, they will create an archive with new interdisciplinary insights into local music scenes in the digital age.

“This is an exploratory grant to figure out many of the challenges for locating and archiving digital records about music making, as well as the added challenge of making them available and searchable for humanists,” Love said. 

The project involves collaboration with a nationwide team, including musicologists, librarians, archivists, and digital humanities and technical experts.