Throughout the entirety of January, I worked with eleven other hard-working student researchers to create our final project, The Life and Legacy of H.T. Burleigh, and what a month it has been! I wasn’t sure what the culmination of our efforts would look like, but I am pleasantly surprised by how nicely everything is coming together. As we prepare to present our project to the co-founders of the Harry T. Burleigh society, Dr. Marti Newland and Lynn Foote, as well as members of the St. Olaf community, I thought I’d take some time to reflect on this whirlwind of a month.
We first started off the journey with a week of introductory research and map-making, which at first felt tangential to our main goal of mapping Burleigh, but the exercise proved itself necessary for building a solid foundation that would serve us well for the rest of the month. It gave me an opportunity to openly try new things while learning what works well and what doesn’t in all things research, although to be honest I’m still figuring that out.
While still in the introductory phase of this course, our class was lucky to have multiple opportunities to work with other scholars. Professor Epstein planned Skype and in-class sessions with former Musical Geography researchers, a geography professor, and the co-founders of the Burleigh Society. Lynn Foote and Jean Snyder provided us with some of their raw materials that we used as research leads for our own work on Burleigh. We were also incredibly fortunate to have the assistance of Beth Christenson and Sara Dale to help us work through difficulties with research or mapping in ArcGIS respectively. The experience gained from the guest speakers and other scholars greatly helped guide my research endeavors for the month.
One aspect of the class I particularly liked was the balance between collaboration and individual specialization. I got to work closely with many people throughout the month, for example, Annika and I jumped off the deep end of digital mapping together when creating our initial project on Mozart’s Travels. For the H.T. Burleigh project, Jacob and I took on the task of researching the performances of Burleigh’s music by Marian Anderson, Roland Hayes, and Paul Robeson. While our work was collaborative, it also allowed me to independently pursue the creation of a timeline of the three artists’ Carnegie Hall performances (which wouldn’t embed on our project page, but accepting reality is another big takeaway from this month). I also researched missing information with Jessie to complete each spreadsheet, a stressful task made much more enjoyable with her as my partner. While I experienced the benefits of individualized research (working at home in my pjs was a plus), I also had the advantage of collaborating with the other eleven positive and supportive members of the team. The work was demanding, but we got through it together. I hope future researchers are as lucky as I was because good collaboration truly makes all the difference.
This course challenged me and pushed me to my limits, but I learned from the struggles and have grown as a researcher. If you had asked me a month ago how music and mapping were related, I simply couldn’t have given you an answer. But now I see that time and space impact more than just our everyday lives, and visualizing data on the whereabouts of these musicians provides the freedom to explore their lives in new and exciting ways. It’s completely transformed the way I think about musicians and composers of the past. I now see them as real human beings that lived full and interesting lives, as opposed to just a name in a textbook or in association with their work. The maps visualize a world I never knew existed before, one full of insight, uncertainty, and new questions.
As I spent most of my time researching Marian Anderson, I find it fitting to sign off with her recording of Burleigh’s “Deep River.” While I know the project is far from finished since there will always be cells to edit and new information to add (a never-ending spiral of curiosity and scholarship), it’s time to pass the baton off to the next group of researchers. Wrapping up our part of the project is bittersweet, but I am excited to see how the CURI researchers this summer will expand upon our month’s work on H.T. Burleigh. If any future researchers are reading this now, I wish you all the best of luck and I can’t wait to see where you will take this project! This month has been the most challenging, most rewarding experience of my time here at St. Olaf, and for that I am grateful.