The Musical Geography of 1924 Paris: Archival Research through Collaborative Mapping

Philip Claussen, Natalie Kopp, and Breanna Olson (St. Olaf College)

Though sound is at the center of music historical research, the sounds of the past remain elusive to scholars and students. Traditional media through which scholarship works – including books and lectures – offer at best a remote, second-hand experience of the concerts, personalities, and issues of a given time and place. In the few cases where new media have been developed to capture musical experiences (notably recordings and videos), they have primarily encouraged passive consumption. With support from St. Olaf College’s Collaborative Undergraduate Research and Inquiry initiative as well as a Mellon Foundation-funded “Digital Humanities on the Hill” grant, we are working to answer a vexing question: How can we represent – even recreate – the sound world of the past?

Interactive digital maps provide an engaging, accessible supplement to conventional music history scholarship. Drawing on historical newspapers, travel guides, and physical and digital archival sources, our team of undergraduates and faculty created a series of maps that open visual, sonic, and contextual exploration to a wide audience. Students and scholars can relive a concert or walk in the footsteps of a famous figure. Moreover, the digitized primary sources that informed our map are immediately available via hyperlink and embedded images.

In our interactive presentation, we model some of the ways in which building and playing with musical maps can make archival research less intimidating for students from a variety of disciplinary backgrounds and levels of expertise. We share insights from our experience working as an interdisciplinary team (including music, French, art history, and English majors) as well as with librarians, information technologists, and computer scientists. Finally, we invite others to adapt our methods and resources to their own disciplinary pursuits.