Research Blog

Here you’ll find informal reflections on the process of researching and creating music historical maps. The latest posts (since January 2017) were written by student researchers taking my Directed Undergraduate Research seminar, Music 396: Musical Geographies. Earlier posts were written by students participating in the summer-long Collaborative Undergraduate Research and Inquiry (CURI) program in June, July, and August 2016. Before that, posts were written by students in Music 345: Paris in the 1920s (click on the link for a full syllabus that includes blogging prompts), and even earlier posts (from May through August 2015) were written by the first cohort of CURI student researchers. Follow our path through this project as we encounter problems, pursue tangents, and work our way through mountains of information.

To find posts by specific contributors, please use the categories sidebar to your right. Or, click through the Tag Cloud. Otherwise, you can find all posts below, organized in reverse chronological order.

That’s a Wrap!

This summer has been an absolute whirlwind. I've learned so much about digital mapping, Darius Milhaud, and my own researching style and abilities. So, I've compiled a list of things that I've learned this summer along with some tips and tricks to help...

Mapping Parisian Salons

Introduction This summer, I pursued an independent research project focusing on the salons of late 19th and early 20th century Paris. I set out to create a comprehensive map of salons from the era that listed relevant information so that...

Fortnight in Paris: Reflections

The last blog post I made was right before I got on a plane to Paris to do archival research. And now, after two weeks, I have the opportunity to reflect a little bit on the time I spent there. It was a fantastic blur of research, sight-seeing, and LOTS of walking. I...

Where am I?

You’ve heard us wax poetic about the research process, the glories of mapping, the people and stories we have discovered over the summer, but really you may find yourself wondering: what has this research team accomplished? First of all, a lot. Secondly...

Letters as an informative tool for research

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...

Research Methodology, Databases, and Handy Flowcharts!

    We are now up to 321 entries in our Milhaud performances spreadsheet. (Take a look here: ) But how did we get all this information? We've used a variety of primary, secondary, and tertiary sources to find information and fill in the gaps. Tertiary sources include...

Paris Bound!

Tomorrow at 2:25 pm I embark on a research adventure to the City of Lights! I am crossing the Atlantic to navigate a totally different research world, armed with little more than a letter from Professor Epstein, a friendly smile, and two years of French...

Musings of a Digital Humanities Convert

As a humanist, I have a natural aversion to technology. I lump digital technology into the camp of “those math and science people,” rarely post on social media, and regularly participate in the discourse that criticizes recent technological advancement for “taking...

Le Boeuf sur le Toit: Jazz, Nightlife, and Modernism

In 1920s Paris, nightlife was inseparable from the social, financial, and artistic life of the city. In the early 20s, Milhaud himself loved spending his weekend-nights entertaining, gallivanting around town, and frequenting nightclubs with his fellow artists. 1 Bar...

The Music Teacher

Composer. Organist. Pedagogue. Nadia Boulanger is widely regarded as one of the most influential music teacher's of the 20th century.  Her teaching position at the American Conservatory at Fontainebleau helped mold a new generation of American composers, including...

La Princesse de Polignac: Defender of Modernism

  In Alex Ross's book The Rest is Noise, he paints a fascinating picture of the musical life of the twentieth century. He interweaves detailed descriptions of composers, patrons, venues, and music theory to explore what the twentieth century might have sounded like....

Why are we doing this?

  This morning, my research team and I presented our goals for this summer's iteration of the Musical Geography Project at the CURI Symposium. Now that we've had to consolidate our ideas for the project and present them in public, we have a much clearer idea of what...

Welcome to the Musical Geography Project.

Project Overview My colleagues and I want to change the way you think about music using Musical Geography. But what exactly is Musical Geography? As we understand it, Music Geography is the exploration of the intersection of time, space, and sound using mapping...

When in doubt, make a map!

It's amazing how it can take almost two weeks to really develop the goals of a project. I have discovered that it is through active work that we seem do the best learning and growing. I think even after these last weeks of intensive research, we will still be...

Mapping to uncover trends

Making maps today once again proved to be a very helpful experience. In fact, as proven in yesterday's readings, making maps is not only done for the fact that they offer a visual representation of things but also because they often times help make arguments or...

What’s in a map?

In her article "How to Play with Maps," Bethany Nowviskie writes that "one cannot 'play with maps' without playing with the truth" (107). We like to think that maps represent an "objective" reality, that "solid, real-world referents underlie everything we see in maps"...

It’s Alive!

Question of the day: how often will I feel like Victor Frankenstein while I work on CURI this summer? The latest task of formatting data from over 200 premiers was monstrous, however, when we finally uploaded our information into the first draft of a map, I had a...

Premieres Galore

Today we got to see the result of our hard work on the data cleaning that we did all day yesterday. We pulled together the spreadsheets of compiled premieres for four different composers - Honneger, Milhaud, Stravinsky, and Poulenc - to create a multi-layered map of...

Making the First Map

Yesterday, to start learning about musical life in 1920s Paris, we read several chapters from several books, including Roger Nichols' The Harlequin Years: Music in Paris 1917-1929 (pp.6-15, 41-58), Nigel Simeone's Paris -A Musical Gazetteer (pp.11-21), and Jann...

Slaying the Data Dragon

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...

The Joy Of Creation!

This morning, my team and I created our very first digital map. We put together a spreadsheet of place names from some reading that we did yesterday about music in 1920's Paris. The authors we read included Roger Nichols, Nigel Simeone, and Jann Pasler. We each...

Day Two of CURI- First experience with mapping

Creating a map was definitely the most exciting part of my day. Even though the data collection was somehow time consuming (more precisely in finding information about the location and descriptions of each of the Parisian cities, art and cultural places), it was very...

First day of CURI and goals- May 30th

As I am starting my first day of CURI, I am really excited not only to learn more about musical geography but also work with a strong and enthusiastic team. Even though I am not a music major nor have a too deep knowledge of music, I am really fascinated by the...

So what are you doing this summer?

I think my teammates will agree with me when I say that trying to explain this project to anyone outside of the music historical sphere is difficult. In describing it to multiple relatives and friends, and in starting readings on the topic, I have been able to...

First Day 2017 CURI!

For the past two summers, the Musical Geography Project (as part of St. Olaf College's Collaborative Undergraduate Research and Inquiry program) has been mapping the sounds and music of 1920s Paris. My name is Anna Perkins, and I am excited to join this summer's...

And so it begins…

Our mission (should we choose to accept it) consists of mapping the life and times of Darius Milhaud, with a particular focus on the time he spent in Germany. What statement does his relationship with different publishing companies make about the changing national...

Au revoir, DUR!

What a ride! I've been thinking a lot about where I was one calendar year ago, before the start of last summer's CURI project, and the difference is enormous. I had never heard of ArcGIS, I had no idea what the letters "CSV" stood for, and the information I knew about...

Final Reflections

This semester has been a wild ride. We have worked independently on individual projects, yes, but we have also engaged with a plethora of scholarly material, mostly in the digital humanities. On top of this, we have met in person and Skyped with several scholars who...

A Final Reflection

Two years ago, when I walked into the classroom of Paris in the 1920s, I did not know that my last day of college will be spent like this - making maps, doing music history and writing a final blog post for the musical geography website. Out of curiosity I checked the...

Things I Hate (and Things I Love) About Carto

Let's start with this simple statement—there is no such thing as a perfect mapping platform. Whether it be ArcGIS, StoryMaps, Google MyMaps, Omeka, or even Carto, there will always be pros and cons to each. With that, I'd like to take some time to talk about my...

Reflecting, finally

As the semester comes to a close, and the final polishes are made by our class of cartographers, I find it necessary to reflect on the progress I've made as both a scholar and as a human being. My studies in the humanities will continue to reward me as I thoughtfully...

Why Static Maps Matter

After a visit from Dr. Lincoln Mullen of George Mason University, our class came home with a huge takeaway—that static maps matter. But why do they matter? We spent an entire semester discussing the benefits of interactivity, so I found it both confusing and...

A Final Survey

A plethora of thoughts and emotions overwhelm me as I sit down to compose this final post. Final - not only in the sense of one installment of this project on Musical Geography, but because this will be one of my final assignments as a student of St. Olaf College....

A Visit from Dr. Lincoln Mullen

On May 9, our Directed Undergraduate Research class had the opportunity to workshop our mapping projects with Dr. Lincoln Mullen, a spatial historian and professor at George Mason University. He gave us useful feedback about our individual work, but also helped us...

Who gets what history?

One of the major challenges of this investigation into the Slave Songs of the United States has been figuring out how to describe this genre of music. What Allen, Ware, and McKim Garrison label as "slave songs" can also be considered under a number of other epithets,...

Coordinating People and Places

When we talk about mapping people, not just places, what else is necessary? Let me step back momentarily to the first instance of my involvement on this project: CURI summer 2015. My particular project on that larger endeavor was the composition of a short,...

Does your map have to make an argument?

At various points in this course, the question of whether a digital map has to have or make an argument has pushed itself to the forefront of our conversations on the digital humanities. On the one hand, I might argue that, well, of course it does. Not so much because...

Workshop Feedback: Return to Static Maps?!

Following my last blog post about my hand drawing map design, here it comes a preview of the final project. Now that I got the chance to actually put all my data points onto the map, many provocative aspects of these digital maps became clearer. While I was...

Preview: Map Design

At the beginning of the semester, we spent a class period hand drawing maps together and sharing the information conveyed through those graphic representations. Before I diving into the technical stage of digital mapping, I want to go back to this activity one more...

Where’s the John Green Crash Course in Web Design?

As the project nears its end, we must design our pages for the Musical Geography website. A lot of factors come into play here: How do I display my maps? How do I make sure people are interested in what I have to say? How do I make sure I don't forget anything? We've...

Mapping Uncertainty

Since our maps are made for an undergraduate research class, we cannot possibly be as in-depth and comprehensive as we would if we had years to work and collect data and find specific coordinates. Due to the nature of Gulag accounts, it's difficult enough to find the...

Catalogue – Spreadsheet – Map

Since my last blog post, I have started visualizing my research data by transcribing them from catalogue entries to mapping points. A major source for my research, Jennifer Doctor's monograph The BBC and Ultra-Modern Music, 1922-1936: Shaping a Nation's Tastes,...

Why Digital Maps? An early question, revisited

Throughout the past couple of weeks of reading, discussion, and conversation, we've explored several different reasons why students and scholars choose to make and use digital maps.  Recently we've been able to articulate some of these potential “goal areas” of DH...

A New Perspective on Digital Mapping

I feel the central takeaways of this class have not only enriched me in the digital humanities but in the benefits and cons of map making research of a particular topic. In our earlier readings, we discussed how maps our problematic especially in how a map maker...

Maps and Movement

One of the thought-provoking themes of the recent Skype conversations our class has been having with scholars of musicology and the digital humanities is that of map-making and movement. In this case, I refer not only to the maps and research blog(s) of Kate Elswit...

Spacial Thinking 101: Have you visualized it?

Throughout the course so far, spacial thinking has been an important idea that we engage in our critical process. From analyzing DH models to trying out different GIS platforms, we have been training our brain to perceive questions from a spatially imaginative...

A Subjective Reality: My takeaways from class so far

Nothing is ever objective in mapping. Nothing. Thinking about this concept is truly scary. The reality of the matter is, there is no objective reality. This semester, I have grappled with this issue more than I could have ever imagined in the subjective reality that...

Skype dates elucidate (or: takeaways from class so far).

Thus far, we have read extensively about mapping practices and methodologies, and we have also held several Skype "dates" with prevalent scholars working on digital humanities projects (including Diana Sinton, Kate Elswit, Harmony Bench, and Todd Decker, all of which...

Gulag Survivors’ Stories

In looking for instances of music in the Gulag, I found that most books about Russian music of the time omit tales from the Gulag. I do not know why. However, I also started reading anthologies of Gulag survivors' stories, and they richly detail the musical life in...

The Excitement over Mapping Villa-Lobos Art Songs!

Researching for my topic on Heitor Villa-Lobos has been very interesting thus far. My project will focus on his travels however focusing on his Solo Vocal Art Song works (those with voice and piano). The reason being for this narrow of a topic is because after...

Spotify Musical Cities Review

This mapping platform by Eliot Van Buskirk scrapes streaming music giant Spotify’s playback data to demonstrate the musical sounds of different countries and select cities. Clicking on a city, marked by a green dot, displays a musical playlist illustrating the...

Music in the Gulag

Since I have extensive experience with Russian culture and much interest in Soviet culture, I decided to study the composers in the Gulag during Stalin's era. I quickly realized that the topic was too narrow, and so I broadened it to "Music in the Gulag." If you...

Re-Imagining the Parisian Jazz Map

For my long-term project this semester, I'm revisiting some of the data and source material about jazz and music-hall performances in Paris during the 1920s. At first, I just wanted to tie up lose ends- although I finished a jazz venues map, I still have a lot of...

Drafting Maps – Make Mapping Necessary

Why mapping matters? What makes it different to present a research on a geographical map rather than some other mediums, like prose, tables or diagrams? With an increasing awareness of both the capability and deficiency of mapping, I keep asking myself "why mapping is...

How to Map Art Music in New York in the 1920s

As I continue forward on my research in the world of musical geography, I have found many a philosophical and methodological conundrum that I have had to face on nearly a daily basis. Our readings have shaped how I do research and how I make maps and will continue to...

Organs and Opera: Mapping Geographical Spread

In order to create digital maps that are effective in the ways we want them to be, it is first helpful to critique "normal" maps- static, print-based maps- and to analyze how they meet or fail to meet our ideas about what maps should be able to do. The map above,...

The Truth about “Objective” Maps

The map I analyzed of the Conservatories, Festivals, and Opera Houses in Western Europe demonstrated the pros and cons that a 2-D non interactive map had. Some of the strengths of the map was that it did categorize (by color and shape) and acknowledge all the...

First Map for DUR

Over the last week, we have been looking at different maps made for humanistic studies, including those designed for musicological usage. The map below comes from the Atlas Historique de la Musique, a collection of various earliest maps illustrating the subjects...

Hiatus, Hubris, and Humility

After a six month hiatus, I have returned to the world of Musical Geography in Dr. Epstein's Undergraduate Research Course aptly titled "Musical Geographies." In this class, we have assembled people both old and new to the project; what exciting adventure awaits (not...

Rethinking regions

Coming back to this project in its fourth stage has been interesting on any number of levels...Perhaps the most immediate difference between the project as I approached it at its inception and my current participation is the step we have taken back - though not...

Reflecting on the Map Making Process

Over a single week I have dived head first into the world of musical geography, transitioning from a map novice to a map critic to, finally, a map maker. While this was a very quick turnaround given my complete naïveté with maps only two weeks ago, I feel a sense of...

Ballets Russes Map Comparisons

We worked in ArcGIS, GoogleMaps, and Carto to display simple pin-drop maps, heat maps, chronological maps, and cluster maps. In some cases, these may be combined to provide the benefits of both styles. Though our some 2,900 cataloged performances of the Ballets Russes...

Alliance Française Exhibit

Yesterday, we held the opening of our exhibit at the Alliance Française in Minneapolis. It will run for two weeks, and then we get to keep pretty, glossy pictures, so really it's awesome. A lot of people came to enjoy the remarks, exhibit, and refreshments provided,...

On Air: The Sound of the Second Viennese School in Paris

If you browse through Le Figaro of the 30s, you will find a regular column entitled "Chronique T.S.F.," or "Radio" in the late 30s, that contains a selected program of daily radio broadcasts all over Europe. Music programs occupied the majority of all entries on every...

Fantastic mysteries and where to find them

How do you conduct research when the data has already been collected for you? I face this question often as I catalog the Ballets Russes data. Since Jane Pritchard, Sarah Woodcock, and Lynn Garafola have already collected all of the Ballets Russes performance data...

Spreadsheets, Data, and Survival

Dear Future CURI Researcher, Data entry has a bad rep. Sure, typing in all those records can take a long time, and doesn't usually make the top ten list of mentally stimulating activities, but when done right, the process can be downright enjoyable. Listed below are...

5 Tips for Data Entry

Data entry can be both easy and tricky, and I wrestle with it every time I do it. Now that half of our summer research has past, it won't hurt to share some of my experience and lessons with future CURI fellows who will definitely have so much fun in dealing with...

Coping with Bottleneck

Bottleneck: a point of hindrance or slowing down The opening weeks of this summer were pleasing and smooth. The campus was quiet and the weather was friendly. Everyday our team imported numerous new entries into our database, and beyond this we discussed readings,...

Some Problems Have Solutions

From now on, rule number one is "no shortcuts." No more trying to do the same work with less effort, no more ending up with a lower quality product. Maybe shortcuts work for some people, but they don't work for me! Especially not the ones inspired by my hubris as a...

Digital Humanities: Oxymoron?

While it seems like the words "digital" and "humanities" should remain in their respective spheres of intellectual study, the interdisciplinary phenomenon of the digital humanities comes with the budding age of limitless data flowing at our fingertips. Critical...

Bringing Data to Life

For the past few weeks, we have been struggling with the same great question that confronts all researchers: how can we bring our data to life? After months of digging in the desert, a team of paleontologists must decide how to display the dinosaur skeleton they...

Ida Rubinstein, Woman Extraordinaire

From the beginning, Ida Rubinstein's life was anything but average. Born in 1885 to wealthy Jewish parents and orphaned nine years later, she was brought up by a wealthy aunt in St. Petersburg, where she received a top-of-the-line European education (multiple...

Maurice Ravel and Paris

Of all the composers at the fore of the early twentieth century, Ravel is one of the most well known. While Poulenc, Milhaud, and Honegger are familiar names among musicologists, Ravel and Debussy have achieved a place in the general public's vocabulary. Most...

1927, Schoenberg in Paris

"It would even be dangerous for composers systematically to ignore the productions of their foreign colleagues and thus to form a sort of national coterie: our musical art, so rich in the present epoch, would quickly degrade and enclose itself in clichés..."1 I...

Presentation pt. 2: Blog Edition

The question, "why make maps about music history?" goes back to the question, "why study music history?" The answer is different for everyone, but for me, it is simple: I study music history because the past constitutes the best stories humanity can offer, and because...

A Less Introductory Introduction

What does it mean to know the past? As a student, I first think of sitting down with a textbook to memorize dates and names. In our project, however, we seek to create a more engaging way of learning about history. The maps that we create, as well as the pictures,...

Imagine the music life of 1920s Paris

  At the beginning of the film Midnight in Paris, Owen Wilson asked, “Can you imagine what would it be like to live in 1920s Paris?” This question leads to a central goal of our research project, that is to imagine...