For the past few weeks, we have been struggling with the same great question that confronts all researchers: how can we bring our data to life? After months of digging in the desert, a team of paleontologists must decide how to display the dinosaur skeleton they uncovered. They will assemble the bones they have, create artifical replacements for the missing ones, and type up a nice informational plaque to tell museum visitors what the dinosaur’s scientific name is, where it lived, and what (or who) it liked to eat. It doesn’t really matter what information is on that plaque, however, because it’s supplementary. The real exhibit is the dinosaur itself, and the story is in every one of its weathered, eroded bones. There’s something about the centuries-old remains of a brachiosaurus that sets off one’s imagination: how did it move? What did it do? What would it feel like to live in such a massive body?

Unfortunately, musicology doesn’t have dinosaurs. We can’t dig up Poulenc and put him on display in a museum, with his own little plaque — “Francis Poulenc, Musicum francorum” — and a list of his favorite foods. What we have are articles, reviews, performance records, images, locations, dates, letters, travel guides, manuscripts, manifestos, and other forms of paper. How do we put that on display without making everyone read all those words?

Following a discussion with GIS specialist Amy Roust and my ensuing conversation with Carolyn, here are some unorganized thoughts about what our dinosaur will look like:


  • Not just where performances were, but where they went
  • Using timemap.js and/or time-enabled layers in ArcGIS
  • Experimenting with different time ranges: a decade, a week, a single evening (This idea specifically applies to the jazz map. Sources that mention jazz performances usually don’t include dates, but we can incorporate chronology into a jazz map by limiting our time frame to one evening. If we treat le jazz as a type of nightlife, and if we can figure out what various venues contributed to this nightlife, we can create a chronological map that represents one person’s evening out. For example, dinner at “high-class jazz restaurant A” at 5:00pm, then “small theater B” at 6:30, then “bar C” at 8:15, then “nightclub D” at 10:45, then “crazier nightclub E” at 1:00am, and back home by 4:30.)


  • Comparing the movement of “unrelated” things
  • Not necessarily physical; could be stylistic. For example, How did the music played at the Théâtre des Champs-Elysées change over time? This question doesn’t deal with spatial movement, but with change over time within an isolated, spatial context (literally mapping the sounds of 1920s Paris)
  • Limiting variables: When I see a map that compares the spread of two works, and I see that Work A is performed 200 times in 1924, while Work B is only performed 12 times, I immediately jump to the conclusion that people didn’t like Work B. However, an audience’s reaction to a new work is only one variable that could affect when and where it is performed. If we could control for certain variables, our maps might become more meaningful. For example, if we read critical reviews of twenty works, and only map the five pieces that got bad reviews, we might notice influences other than audience reception. Or, to avoid making subjective judgements about how successful pieces were, talk about performances by Russian composers, performances in November, etc.
  • Polygon heat maps: We talked about this concept last night with Amy – how can we highlight significant areas (such as France, the U.S.) in order to analyze their importance? Using polygons is important because they will help us answer a question Anne Knowles asks of spatial history: “What is a meaningful boundary in space?” (Frank, 423). Are international boundaries meaningful? Are smaller political boundaries (such as arrondissements) meaningful?


  • One map, multiple layers (ex. combined premieres map)
  • Two maps, side-by-side (ex. Boléro in the U.S. next to Boléro in France, with the ability to “play” both at the same time and watch how the piece spread through these two countries)


  • Images: The more, the better (pictures of the façade, pictures of the inside of the theater, artwork that would have hung inside the venue, photos of performers, typical audience members, playbills, advertisements/posters)
  • Primary texts (critical reviews, letters to friends, travel guides from the time)
    • The primary source exerpts are my favorite part of any textbook. If we’re going to use text, as much of it as possible should come from primary sources
  • Audio: Hugely important! We don’t want links to YouTube videos. We want actual embedded audio that adds to the user’s experience rather than removing the user from the experience because they have to follow a link to get to it. Embedding audio can be a problem because of copyright laws — it can be hard to get permission to use some recordings — but that’s the goal
  • A general narrative arc that will piece together the snippets of musical life we’ve assembled. This could be like a guided tour, where we start with a map of venues, include a short video clip with a voiceover of us talking about them, and move through various maps and visualizations in a somewhat logical order. We won’t get a comprehensive picture of Paresian musical life, but we should aim for a cohesive one
  • Putting everything together – audio, pictures, map, timeline, all at the same time

Interactivity and subjectivity

  • Users should have control of the questions and answers. Frank writes, “The viewer expects the map to answer, not ask, questions” (417). Users expect maps to make arguments, but they should be free to formulate their own interpretation of what they see. Maps should be subjective. James Davies writes, somewhat dramatically, “The inaccessibility of the product … could be taken to represent just another triumph of the old modernist project to suck the life out of human experience and disperse it into that mysteriously preexisting nonuman world of endless objectivity” (82). Objects — products — must be open to subjective interpretation. Objective interpretations are worthless, because objectivity doesn’t really exist within the realm of human exprerience. If we want our maps to enhance people’s experience of history, they must be human. Users must be able to ask “What are the ideals, desires, and motives at play here? How can I relate what I see on this map to my daily life?” That’s subjective and meaningful. Maybe we need to explicitly ask users those questions…
    • Maps should spark debate – we can give our interpretation, but let the maps ask questions of the users
    • Something Emily said: “Lead the horse to the water, but don’t force it to drink” — For example, our venue map shows that most theaters were on the right bank, but the question of “why?” is still open to debate. Or, in the words of Presner et al., our maps should “emphasize context and meaning-making through a combination of micro and macro analyses that foster a multiplicity of interpretations rather than simply reporting facts or considering maps as somehow given, objective, or complete” (19)
  • Allow users to create their own maps: This goal has to do with giving users control of the question. Our data should be 100% available online, so that anyone who visits our website can query the data and create their own maps. Amy suggested using GIS OpenData for this purpose
  • Allow users to add their own data (this point fits in better with teamwork, which is the last big topic to think about)


  • How can multiple users work together to make a map or contribute to the project?
  • Users should be able to add data. Bringing 1920s Paris to life is a community effort, and we should advertise this project as “open-source” to acknowledge that fact. I think allowing users to add their own data would encourage other people to work together and adapt this method of conceptualizing history to their own projects

These are all ideas to keep in mind as we move forward and continue to think about how to bring our data to life… Thanks to Amy for her great input so far!


Davies, James Q. “On Being Moved/Against Objectivity.” Representations 132, no. 1 (Fall 2015): 79-87. Accessed February 11, 2015. doi:10.1525/rep.2015.132.1.79.

Frank, Zephyr. “Spatial History as Scholarly Practice.” In Between Humanities and the Digital, edited by Patrik Svensson and David Theo Goldberg, 411-28. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2015.

Presner, Todd, David Shepard, and Yoh Kawano. “Lexicon.” In Thick Mapping in the Digital Humanities, 12-21. China: Harvard University Press, 2014.