A plethora of thoughts and emotions overwhelm me as I sit down to compose this final post. Final – not only in the sense of one installment of this project on Musical Geography, but because this will be one of my final assignments as a student of St. Olaf College. Forgive me my melodrama, reader; graduation brings with it both joy and nostalgia at the loss of what seems to be a fairly significant episode in my life. After so many months devoted to this project both in 2015 and more recently, I would assert that exploring the Musical Geography of our world has also been an important feature within that episode.
This project has indeed grown considerably since its advent in the summer of 2015. When we began researching 1924 Paris, figuring out how to even use any of the digital mapping platforms available to us was enough of an adventure and an experiment. Our team imagined that, at some point in the future, should the project continue to receive funding, musical mapping might extend to other places and ways of imagining space and time. When I consider the variety of platforms and geographic locations which now compose the maps featured on this website, I am nonetheless astounded. From fumbling with Google Maps and toying with ArcGIS, this project now involves maps made using Carto, ArcGIS Storymaps…some of our contributors have even made forays into the wilds of Omeka and Omeka Neatline. From the city of Paris, we’ve expanded our spatial reach to include New York, London, various regions of the United States, areas of central and southern Europe, South America, and Russia. Our maps can take you across hemispheres of the globe; is it too ambitious to imagine that a few years from now, this project will be able to boast a truly global data set?
Furthermore, this project has facilitated interactions between its student collaborators and scholars across the digital humanities. It was an absolute pleasure to be able to meet with Dr. Lincoln Mullen of George Mason University, in person. His responses to our cartographic efforts and his advice for our individual projects demonstrated a true interest in sharing the fruits of his experience within the Digital Humanities and proved invaluable to broadening our perspectives on what our maps could do. The contributions made by Dr. Mullen and the many other guests hosted in our class either in person or through the ever-amazing facilitation of Skype made us aware of the different ways of approaching the Digital Humanities as a field or an extension of ongoing scholarship and gave us considerable food for thought as we conducted our research. Even having been on the first installment of this project, I am aware of how much I have learned about the Digital Humanities in this semester and how my appreciation for the work of these scholars has grown.
Comparing my work on the CURI 1921 Paris project and this step in the Musical Geography series, I believe that I have developed a stronger sense for how digital maps can be used to supplement and engender humanities research. My individual project this semester was far more difficult for me, I believe, than the project I pursued in 2015. In part, this difference results from the change in subject matter; I feel I was better equipped to research 1920’s Paris, especially when I narrowed my focus to Parisian society and the intersections of famous characters within music, haute society, and the arts. Researching post-Civil War collections of what I have called “slave songs” following the example established by my primary source has proven to be a greater challenge, not only because it demanded a better understanding of musicology but also because of the multiple layers of ethical concerns surrounding the subject.
No challenge is without its rewards, however, and while the semester was a balancing act between classes, unknown (to me) mapping platforms, and occasionally daunting avenues of inquiry, I believe it led to a greater personal understanding for a phenomenon about which I knew very little. I can truly say that I admire the scholars who have engaged themselves in this field with particular tenacity, and assert that more attention needs to be given to the music of black Americans (to borrow the words of Eileen Southern, one of the foremost scholars of the field).
As for myself, it is time I gave my final bow, and so I bid this project a last, fond – adieu.