With In 1926: Living at the Edge of Time, Gumbrecht strives to represent one specific year in history as vividly as possible. He depicts “history as a narrative,” rather than seeking to describe the historical environment of the year (page xi). With various essays on topics ranging from bullfighting, to jazz, to mummies, Gumbrecht constructs the historical framework that he invites the reader to explore via these strictly descriptive passages.
The idea behind HyperCities, as introduced by Presner, Shepard, and Kawano in HyperCities: Thick Mapping in the Digital Humanities, is related to Gumbrecht’s mission in that both attempt to re-construct a past construct that can never again be fully realized; both examples seem to bite off more than they can chew. In fact, Presner et al state that the concept of HyperCities is just that: a concept, “largely unrealized, perhaps impossible” (page 13).
That is not to say that these efforts are in vain. Presner et al go on to describe the nature of thick mapping. “Mapping,” they write, “is not a one-time thing, and maps are not stable objects that reference, reflect, or correspond to an external reality” (page 15). Thick mapping, with its multidimensionality and numerous layers of data, is all the more fluid and subject to continuous editing.
These projects, therefore, are very useful, and indeed essential models for music historians; they provide the basis on which research can continue. Music history is never finished, in the same way that the concept of HyperCities may never be fully realized. However, in laying the groundwork for continued research and plotting ever more detailed points on the “thick map” that is music history, we can strive to provide a clearer picture of the musical past.