The past few weeks have been for the Musical Geography team a sort of travel through primary sources.

Among the many things that were on our agenda, we spent the past week looking at a collection of letters written by/to Darius Milhaud, which Professor Epstein had the opportunity to photograph during a previous trip in Paris.

Going through Milhaud’s letters has so far been such a fascinating and useful experience , mainly because of everything that we’ve learned throughout the process as well as in providing some important and crucial information for our research project.

A handwritten letter from Milhaud

First of all, we jumped into an experiment in which we were not quite sure of the outcome as well as the type of information that we were going to find. For instance, this required us to be very careful in our analysis of these letters and pay a close attention to details, which wasn’t always an easy thing to do, especially when looking at handwritten letters (which were not always easy to follow). 

Moreover, analyzing these letters has been quite a challenging process, mainly due to the fact that it wasn’t always easy to find information. In fact, a lot of the time, the letters weren’t related to performances that we were interested in , which was somehow frustrating and disappointing. However, with a lot of patience and perseverance and after going through letters after letters, we were able to find crucial information, which we are very proud of. 

Sample of a letter on the Elevator

After analyzing all these letters, we uploaded them on a database called the Elevator , in order to chronologically visualize them but also to put them in a very structured and organized way. This step proved to be slightly challenging as, uploading these letters on the Elevator required us to follow very precise rules and guidelines (such as specific date formats) as well as being consistent in our formatting of the letters, in order to produce a data that is organized and easy to follow. Moreover, we had to learn how to be as brief and straightforward as possible in the notes section of our letters and limit our descriptions to relevant information.

Screenshot of the Milhaud letters on the elevator

So far, we managed to go through 222 letters, which has been such a learning process for us as, in order to get the most out of them, we had to learn very particular skills. 

These letters have served such an incredibly important role for our research, both in confirming some of our our previous findings as well as in helping us find more information about some of Milhaud’s performances. Moreover, these letters have allowed us to be more critical about some of our previous entries and look for more validity, especially whenever our findings failed to match the information that was found in the letters. 

We’ve made an amazing amount of progress and already accomplished a lot in just a week. I can only say that I am very optimistic for the remaining letters that we have to analyze and I am looking forward to see where our findings might take us next.