I spend hours a day reading. Combing through dusty biography after dusty biography searching for a single mention of a single address for a single spreadsheet. Research can seem monotonous after a while. So, on the second day of this summer’s CURI program, I came up with a strategy: find the women. As a feminist scholar, I am intrigued by the stories of historical women and the way gender roles shaped our perceptions of society. I began searching in those biography pages for stories about women, who they were and what they did. But I couldn’t find exactly what I was looking for. Instead, I found an army of shadows. Names being mentioned, casually, without description. Ida Rubenstein, Ethel Smyth, Nadia Boulanger, Jane Bathori. Again and again, the same names. The more I saw them the more I tried to find scholarship on their role in modern music. There wasn’t much. Yet, Women have always been there, throughout history, influencing and molding what would become the future, and yet they forced into the shadows of other people’s biographies. My belief in ethical feminist scholarship and the true advancement of knowledge demand that I devote my time to this issue. So, today’s blog post is part of a summer-long effort to use feminist praxis in my research. Today, I have created a BuzzFeed quiz.
Now, I am perfectly aware that a BuzzFeed quiz does not represent the pinnacle of scholarship, but I think it does something else. It makes the stories of these amazing women accessible.The only way to increase scholarship on this “Army of Shadows” is to pull them into the light. To do this, their names must become as recognizable to the public as that of their male counterparts. Their stories are unique and fascinating, and by drawing attention who they were (even through something as cheesy as a BuzzFeed quiz), I hope to facilitate an introduction to feminist musicology to the general public. And who doesn’t love BuzzFeed quizzes?
Even though I designed the quiz to be fun, I wanted it to have educational value. I chose a traditional BuzzFeed Personality Quiz format, the “who were you in a past life” . This format allows users to visualize themselves in a historical context. However, to get them to that visualization, I first must keep them engaged with the quiz. To do this, I wrote both serious, factually based questions (In what year were you born…) with random creative questions (Pick a color that represents you) and used this alternating pattern to keep users focused on the quiz while subtly feeding them historical information. The results of the quiz were also engineered to create a learning response. I included a link to more learning opportunities related to the figure users received as a result in the description box.
So, how does this quiz participate in feminist praxis?
- The title. In titling the quiz “Which Musical Figure Of 1920s Paris Were You In A Past Life?” and having the results be only women, I attempt normalize the ideas of women as central figures in musical life.
- Furthered feminist scholarship. I hope to inspire others to engage with the content in the quiz and pursue further learning related to women of the 1920s.
- As a part of a larger, feminist centered, research project. This blog post and quiz are the results of independent research on women in 1920s musical life.
This quiz is still very much a work in progress and needs updates in formatting and (preferably) a way to access the quiz or embed it in our website. For now, though, it’s a good first step for this summer of feminist scholarship.
It is our duty as ethical scholars and feminists to fight for the narratives that history makers forget. Let’s get started.
The Editors of Encyclopedia Britannica. “Ida Rubenstein.” Encyclopædia Britannica. February 27, 2017. Accessed June 16, 2017. https://www.britannica.com/biography/Ida-Rubinstein.
Fuller, Sophie. “Smyth, Dame Ethel.” Grove Music Online. Oxford Music Online. Oxford University Press, accessed June 17, 2017, http://www.oxfordmusiconline.com/subscriber/article/grove/music/26038.
Kahan, Sylvia. Music’s Modern Muse: A Life of Winnaretta Singer, Princesse De Polignac. Rochester, N.Y: University of Rochester Press, 2009.
Potter, Caroline. “Boulanger, Nadia.” Grove Music Online. Oxford Music Online. Oxford University Press, accessed June 17, 2017, http://www.oxfordmusiconline.com/subscriber/article/grove/music/03705.