Academia is always trying to find new ways to exhibit information in meaningful and enlightening ways. This is due in part because as academicians, we believe that the things we study are important, and that we should be studying them.
Presner, Shepard, and Kowano are interested in a format of scholarly presentation that mixes content based in the humanities with a form of archiving called thick mapping, wrapped up nicely in a digital package. Thick mapping is an endeavour to collect and sort geographically sensitive data so that it may be analyzed in a variety of way. It is a concept that demands more than one kind of data, and that may be continuously expanded. Thick mapping is made more thick by the fact that it is not intended to, and couldn’t possibly, illuminate one truth about the presented data. Thick mapping gives rise to counter-mapping, increasing the conversation and contention around a given topic.
In this book, the authors attempt to thrust the reader into a world in which thick mapping is done digitally. Digital mapping is already a significant change from traditional mapping as it is a material change upon which the map is created. A digital thick map would come along with all the complexities of a thick map, formed in a digital environment, making it more accessible, networked, and extensible.
It seems that, to a degree, we are already doing thick mapping in music history. When we start each class by singing a song from class for the day, we are doing more than just analyzing the music for themes such as nationalism, gender, ideology, etc., but we are engaging the music in a way that pure analysis can’t. Although I am skeptical of the effectiveness of placing all these things in the digital realm, thick mapping seems like an essential thing to do when one studies music history. We must certainly learn the banal aspects of it, that is to say dates, names, and places, but to get at any understanding that is deeper than what may be represented in a textbook, we have to do more. Making the music we study, learning the relevant particulars of the cultures in which the music was created/performed, learning the stories of the people that created it, and living it for ourselves begins to have an ethically demanded importance for serious study.