As we wrap up a month of research, it feels fitting to reflect on the things I’ve learned over the past few weeks. When I was writing the prose for the introduction of our project page and the “Mapping H.T. Burleigh” section, I found myself trying to grapple with the concept of mapping normalcy. How can I understand Burleigh through his everyday interactions, the people that he talked with, or his regular performances at St. George’s Cathedral? How can I remove Burleigh from the racially charged world in which he lived? How can I frame Burleigh’s successes alongside his marginalization instead of in spite of it? This project has just started to answer these questions for me, and it makes me wonder just how much there is to learn about the hundreds of other composers that have been similarly understudied throughout history. Like the work that has been done recently in trying to understand the musical landscape of 1920’s Paris, there is so much that can be gained by better understanding the complex musical landscape of early 20th century America and the Harlem Renaissance.
Another important thing that this project taught me is knowing when to let a point go. As frustrating as it could be, sometimes it was not within our resources to pinpoint an exact address, find the name of an old concert hall that does not exist anymore, or decipher exactly what a newspaper was trying to say about where Burleigh was and what exactly he was doing there. It is difficult to decide when to just move on with our research when we’ve put so much effort into trying to uncover a small bit of information. The outtakes sheets are our friends, because they remind us that the work that we did is not for naught. They are not dead ends, but possible leads for future researchers with different sets of eyes and different resources at their disposal. I learned that the best researchers keep their data clean, keep their data consistent, and know that no research is a waste of time. An earlier blog post that I wrote detailed my anticipation for finding more examples of Paul Robeson and Roland Hayes performing Burleigh abroad. After an evening of searching, I had only come up with a couple of new points, both in similar locations to others that I already had on the map. As much as I was hoping to find an example of Robeson performing Burleigh during his tours through Australia and New Zealand, I just wasn’t able to bring anything up (though I did come across some fascinating literature on the subject). I have to remind myself that this is not a failure, but instead another possible route for another researcher to go down who might be able to uncover something that I could not.
Overall, this month has made me much more comfortable with researching, both on a huge scale and a tiny scale. My initial searches for Hayes and Burleigh brought up a few thousand results across dozens of different types of resources. In contrast, when I was searching for exact performances in the UK by Hayes, I was working with just a dozen results or less as I constantly tweaked my search terms to find out more about a particular concert. I’ve gained a lot of insight on how to work with Newspaper databases, how to skim extensive biographies effectively, and how to go about “cold-emailing” a professor halfway across the world to look for leads. As Marti Newland said after our final presentation, we should be proud of the work we did. That being said, we are just starting to uncover more about H.T. Burleigh, an essential piece of the puzzle that is the American musical tradition. Our work is far from complete, and I can’t wait to see what future Burleigh researchers have yet to discover.