Mapping Parisian Salons
This summer, I pursued an independent research project focusing on the salons of late 19th and early 20th century Paris. I set out to create a comprehensive map of salons from the era that listed relevant information so that students, scholars, and the public could use the map as a resource when studying Parisian Salons. Beyond this, I hoped my research would help me work on a paper about gender roles in salon culture of the period. While all of this sounds beautiful and ambitious, I must admit now under the scrutiny of a punishingly hot August, that I hadn’t the foggiest idea what I was getting myself into.
Challenges in Mapping and Data Gathering
I encountered several problems when attempting to gather data for this project. Below are descriptions of the issues I encountered.
The Language Barrier
The largest problem I encountered when studying the salons of La Belle Époque and Les Années Folles Paris was most certainly the language barrier I encountered. I have taken a few years of French courses and began my study of the topic with optimism. However, as the summer began to wear on, I found myself increasingly frustrated and worn down by the overwhelming amount of information I needed to process. Research moved at a glacial pace. I could cover in three hours, perhaps two pages of the most fundamental text regarding the salons of this period, Mécènes et musiciens. Du salon au concert à Paris sous la IIIe République. My inability to interact with this text in the way I felt was truly necessary to understand and write about the topic was severely limited. To put it bluntly, struggling through the brilliant and high-level scholarship that concerns this topic made me feel like slamming my head into a wall. Repeatedly. I found that my use of internet translation services and francophone friends and family were invaluable. Even with the hours I’d poured into my research and consulting as many secondary English sources I could get my hands on, all I managed to produce was a somewhat meager map of Parisian salons, giving, at the least, an address of the salon and the name of the patron who was in charge, and at most the dates the salon ran, and a few details about the salon itself. The most important sources for me to study were far beyond my reach linguistically, and most of them were far beyond my reach physically as well.
The Physical Barriers
The amazing figures who operated the salons of Paris often kept fastidious journals or correspondence. Unfortunately, finding a published copy of these documents in English is next to impossible, and most French sources were not available in the United States. I could rely on periodicals through Gallica, the archival database of the French National Library. From these, I could piece together the addresses of different salons and learn a bit more about the day to day environment of the most famous locations. Beyond that, I confronted several English language biographies of famous patrons, like the Princesse de Polinac and Natalie Barney. While these were helpful, they contained minimal details about the physical locations of salons, and only a little more about the people who ran them.
Finding information about the topic was extremely difficult, partly due to the physical and linguistic barriers I encountered, but also because of the lack of scholarship on the salons of this period in general.
Below is an example map of what I was able to accomplish. Each pop-up contains information about the salon, including the name of the patron, the address of the salon, the dates the salon was active, a description of the salon, pieces that were written for the salon, and a list of historical figures that one may have encountered at the salon.
This is the first map I created. While basic in nature, it communicates the data I collected from my sources and displays them in a no nonsense, clear manner.
While effective, I felt this map didn’t fully engage with the breadth of knowledge I discovered during my research. Additionally, I felt the knowledge I gained about the incredible women who operated the salons of this era was not being thoroughly communicated. In an effort to achieve a complete form of feminist praxis in my scholarship, I created an additional story map that highlighted four of the most popular salons. Through the map of these salons, I aim to highlight the diversity and dynamism of their patrons, not only as lovers of music but as people who left a distinct mark on musical society.
My primary resource for this project was Mécènes et musiciens. Du salon au concert à Paris sous la IIIe République by Myriam Chiménes. After reading through the text, I marked down the salons that appeared to be the most frequently referenced and decided that these salons would be the focus of my research. From there, I searched through that text and several others (the titles of which can be found below in my Bibliography) to confirm a location or address. I then used several biographies of composers and patrons to assemble what I could regarding the dates the salon operated, the salon attendants, etc. Finish this, I created a map using Arc GIS technology (to learn more about the mapping process used by the Musical Geography Project researchers, click here.)
My summer research into Parisian salons was a solid summer of what I like to call “background work”. In doing a plethora of background reading on salon culture and the salons of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, I established a foundation for future research in learning the “major players” of the scene and exploring what kind of scholarship was already available on the topic. More than anything about salons, I learned about my own limitations, and what challenges can be presented while attempting to research a topic one knows nothing about in a language one doesn’t speak very well. I didn’t have any idea what I was getting myself into. However, looking back on a summer spent drastically improving my French skills and performing exploratory research on a subject I’m fascinated by, I can’t say I’m too disappointed with the results. Additionally, I learned a lot about the nature of mapping as a research exercise. A large amount of the scholarship our research team had read this summer focused on how to use digital maps as a research tool to display data. In creating this map of salons, however, I found that what I was doing was exploratory research. I had to learn a wealth of background knowledge in my subject to fill out an incredibly general map. To do so meant that I spent hours upon hours reading every page of multiple biographies, searching through musical periodicals, both current and historical, for any mention of salons. Mapping allowed me to engage in a unique expansive survey of my topic. And I got some pretty interesting maps out of it too.
Where do we go from here?
To continue working on the research, I would need several things. Below is a list of what I would need to do to complete high level scholarship on this topic:
- Fluent French. I walk away from this summer absolutely convinced that fluency in the language of your research interest area is 100% necessary.
- Access to private journals and correspondences of salon patrons.
- A clarified research topic. Picking a more specific map to make, or perhaps choosing one or two salons to focus on would allow for higher level research.
Questions that should be investigated:
- Does the geography of Parisian salons offer additional support to the current notion of a historical neighborhood hierarchy in Paris?
- How can mapping these salons enhance or change our opinions of “feminine space” in La Bell Époque and Les Années Folles?
- How can mapping the salons of this era enhance feminist praxis in Digital Humanities and Musicology Scholarship?
Researching these topics and more will help us continue to widen our perspectives and expand our definitions of what musicology of the future can look like. For now, though, I’d say we have a good start.
Brooks, Jeanice. “Nadia Boulanger and the Salon of the Princesse de Polignac.” Journal of the American Musicological Society46, no. 3 (1993): 415-68. Accessed June 22, 2017. doi:10.1525/jams.1993.46.3.03a00040.
Chimènes, Myriam. Mécènes et musiciens: du salon au concert à Paris sous la IIIe République. Paris: Fayard, 2004.
Kahan, Sylvia. Music’s modern muse: a life of Winnaretta Singer, Princesse de Polignac. Rochester, NY: Univ. of Rochester Press, 2006.
Roberts, Mary Louise. 2014. Civilization without Sexes: Reconstructing Gender in Postwar France, 1917-1927. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. Accessed August 2, 2017. ProQuest Ebook Central.
Smyth, Ethel, and Ronald Crichton. The memoirs of Ethel Smyth. London: Faber and Faber, 2008.
Stein, Gertrude, and William H. Gass. The geographical history of America or The relation of human nature to the human mind. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins university press, 1995.
Wickes, George. The Amazon of letters: the life and loves of Natalie Barney. New York: Popular Library, 1978.