Next Steps

While the work that our team completed was extensive, it only scratches the surface of what is possible both for studying musicians like H.T. Burleigh and for using maps as musicological tools. When we ask the question, “Why study H.T. Burleigh?”, we should also be asking ourselves “Why study Margaret Bonds?” or “Why study Ludwig van Beethoven?” All three of these questions have the same answer: Burleigh, Bonds, and Beethoven are all a part of the classical music lineage and story, so of course we should study them. While most people are familiar with Beethoven, few will know Burleigh, and even fewer Bonds. Beethoven was remarkable, but his current fame exists because he was (and continues to be) privileged by history. We have a ways to go before we can say that we have studied Burleigh and understood the scope of his influence as thoroughly as many composers of the Western Musical Canon.

Certainly, there is still much more to be learned and mapped about Burleigh’s life. We had a very limited amount of time and lacked any ability to travel for our research. Perhaps visiting some other physical sources would have yielded even more places to be mapped. Furthermore, as research and study continues on Burleigh, more information will almost certainly arise.

One aspect of researching and mapping that we discussed and ultimately just didn’t have the time for was to map the probable racial makeup of the spaces in which he performed. According to Jean Snyder’s article about Burleigh’s life in Erie, the town was very segregated when Burleigh’s parents moved there, and continued to be while he was growing up there. But, by the time he left his hometown to study in New York, Burleigh was performing with Erie’s most talented singers and performers, including white ones. Will mapping the audiences and spaces that Burleigh performed show us something new about how Burleigh broke racial barriers throughout his career?

Another direction that we ultimately didn’t take is mapping performances of Burleigh’s works by genre; spiritual arrangements or art songs. It might be interesting to see if performances of these two different genres took place in different geographic or racialized places. Again, we started collecting some data on the genre of works performed, but certainly not extensively, and we were unable to map it effectively in this iteration of the project. Perhaps future researchers and digital humanities mappers can pick up our work.

What we did learn through our research was that Burleigh was in many ways extraordinary for his time. His estate was worth a small fortune at the time of his death, inspiring a lot of litigation. We also found a newspaper article that described just how much Burleigh made from royalties as his music was performed, which was over $5,000 in 1935 and would be equivalent to around $92,000 in today’s money.

However, in other ways, Burleigh was just one of many other influential black composers and musicians of the twentieth century as we saw from reading Maud Cuney-Hare. Naturally, this begs the question of what about those other composers? What new things might we learn from researching and mapping these other composers as well? Might that change how we ultimately view the Western Musical Canon and the contributions that black composers have made to it?

In the moment, we want viewers to ask themselves “what are the maps trying to show about Burleigh?” But after viewing and thinking about the maps critically, each answer to the previous question becomes a launchpad into another series of questions, expanding out in ways that connect history to itself and to the future. All of this is to say that our maps strive to inspire just as many questions as they answer.

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