The mountain of information I had compiled into my spreadsheet seemed insurmountable. By the time I had finished the first three readings we were assigned, I had already collected over 50 locations to map. I felt a bit like Hercules facing the Hydra. My previous map making experience could be described as “limited” in that my best memories of cartography involve a messy drawing I made at the age of six (shaped vaguely like something that might have been Europe) that my mom hung on our fridge. The Team was meeting at 10:00. It was 9:45 and I felt like I had no idea what I was doing.
Though the feeling (akin to that of being adrift in space) of being unsure didn’t leave me immediately, the more I began to delve into the data spreadsheet with my teammates, the more a longer story became clear. We worked on the spreadsheet for two hours together, and a few more individually. Assembling a picture of Parisian landmarks allowed us to ask important questions about the socio-political implications of Paris’s architecture.
In mapping the city, we were forced to consider the stories that bridges like the Pont du Alexandre III tell. How does the connection between the Grand Palais and Petit Palais with Les Invalides symbolize the relationship between France and Russia? Why is that relationship important? While plotting the plethora of theaters, museums, and palaces that 1920s Paris had to offer, I also considered a passage from Jann Pasler’s, Composing the Citizen, in which she states “The structure of Paris—its grand vistas, monuments, and bridges alongside its charming cafés, sinuous alleys, and hidden-away treasures—suggests a model for thinking about the structure of the musical world, where musical institutions are sited and their forms of power reside” (Pasler 3). We were only mapping places influenced and built by the Parisian elite: arches in honor of Napoleon’s battles, opera houses that perform established canon, new theaters that can perform new works because of the deep pockets of their patrons. What happened to marginalized musical narratives? Where was music being performed outside of the traditional venues? Why was the Paris Opéra the seat of musical power? Mapping these landmarks perhaps created more questions than answers, but I think that’s a good thing.
The more we continued to work on the maps, the less I felt adrift. Instead, I felt a pulling curiosity, a pointed desire to know more. When we finally uploaded our data sets into the mapping software, I felt like I had slain my first data dragon. I know there are more to come, but after today’s preliminary battle, I feel like I’m defining my strategy. Armed with readings, questions, and a comprehensive knowledge of Google Sheets, the Hydra of musicological research doesn’t stand a chance.
Pasler, Jann. Composing the Citizen, edited by Jann Pasler, University of California Press, 2009. ProQuest Ebook Central, https://ebookcentral.proquest.com/lib/stolaf-ebooks/detail.action?docID=1609005. 1-49.