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Contextualizing Music History

Using digital humanities tools to examine musical recordings

Using digital humanities tools to examine musical recordings

Emily Hynes came to Carolina because of the progressive and rigorous musicology program and the opportunity to be a member of The Graduate School’s Royster Society of Fellows.

“The fellowship has offered me unique research and networking opportunities,” she said.

Last year, one such research opportunity came her way through the James W. Pruett Summer Research Fellowship awarded through the music department. Hynes conducted research at the Library of Congress’ American Folklife Center, which includes the field recordings and books of John Lomax, a pioneering musicologist and folklorist. Like other folklorists of his generation, Lomax traveled the country collecting songs from prison inmates. Lomax would visit prisons across the South, gather the inmates together and record them.

As Hynes recounted, “some of the songs were folk songs, some of them were slave songs and some of them were Appalachian songs that were appropriated into the slave culture.”

Hynes is now working to create digital maps of these recordings. Musicologists use geographical maps in combination with digital humanities tools to convey the movement of music and musicians as well as to contextualize music history within broader social, cultural and political history. 

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