Sounding Spirit Receives $260,000 Grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities

Class, Choir, and Congregation (1888).

I’m excited to announce that Sounding Spirit, a project I direct at the Emory Center for Digital Scholarship, received a $260,000 grant today from the National Endowment for the Humanities through the Scholarly Editions and Translations program. The three-year grant will support the publication of five digital critical editions of important songbooks from the southern vernacular sacred music diaspora—collections of spirituals, shape-note music, hymns, and gospel. This funding will help boost our capacity and enable us to hire a managing editor for the project.

As described on the Sounding Spirit project site, the initiative focuses on songbooks in these genres between 1850 and 1925,

a time of great dramatic demographic and cultural change that shaped intersections of race, religion, region, and music in the United States. These genres refracted these issues and comprise the roots of popular music in the twentieth century. These songbooks, part of the Pitts Theology Library English and American Hymnody and Psalmody Collection, are drawn from different religious groups, include the work of black, white, and Native American contributors, and each represent music using different music notation and book designs, shedding light on the relationship of music forms to identity.

The digital and print editions will be co-published by ECDS and the University of North Carolina Press in a first-of-its-kind open access publishing partnership. Several ECDS staff members will support this work, including my former advisor, Allen Tullos, who serves as the project co-director.  Sara PalmerJay VarnerYang Li, and Robert A. W. Dunn will also contribute expertise.

Sounding Spirit complements existing music edition projects. The Committee on the Publication of American Music recognized that Sounding Spirit covers “highly significant vernacular American musical repertoire … ground that has been overlooked by complementary publication projects, including COPAM’s own flagship series,” Music of the United States of America (MUSA). Happily, MUSA, co-edited by Sounding Spirit editorial board member Mark Clague, also received funding today through the NEH’s Scholarly Editions and Translations program. Together, the awards comprise a remarkable showing of support for scholarly editing in American music.

Another project of mine was also approved for funding today through the NEH’s Digital Humanities Advancement Grants program. The Digital Drawer, a project to develop and test a platform for crowd-sourcing rural history was approved for $86,471 of level 2 funding. I serve as co-director of this project, which is directed by Scott Robertson of Georgia Institute for Technology’s Interactive Media Technology Center in partnership with ECDS and Historic Rural Churches of Georgia.

I’m humbled and gratified by this outstanding support for these initiatives at the intersection of digital humanities, critical regional studies, and preservation. And I’m particularly thankful to the US legislators and their constituents who have fought to preserve the vital federal funding for the humanities that makes work like this possible.

Digital Research Role at Emory Center for Digital Scholarship

This September I will be transitioning into an exciting new role at Emory University that mixes my interests in collaborative digital research projects, nineteenth- and twentieth-century American music, teaching, and interdisciplinary editing and publishing about the southern United States. After a year as postdoctoral fellow in digital humanities publishing, I will be joining the Emory Center for Digital Scholarship full time as senior digital scholarship strategist.

In this new role, my responsibilities will include overseeing the center’s process for producing digital projects, from the proposal stage, through implementation, to sustainability. I will also manage key center initiatives related to my own research on American music and the US South. These projects include the Sounding Spirit initiative to publish digital critical editions and companion print editions of key texts from the Southern sacred music diaspora, 1850–1925, the Atlanta Studies scholarly journal and blog on the metropolitan Atlanta region, the Readux platform for browsing, annotating, and publishing editions of digitized books, and the Sacred Harp Minutes research database. I will continue to teach one course a year in Emory’s American studies, interdisciplinary studies, and music departments. Finally, I’ll consult with Emory faculty on digital projects related to Readux and the southern United States. I’m excited to move into this new role.

Announcing the Garfinkel Prize

I’m excited to join my colleagues in the leadership of the American Studies Association’s Digital Humanities Caucus in celebrating the announcement of the first annual Garfinkel Prize for “excellent work at the intersection of American Studies and Digital Humanities.” As our announcement notes, the prize “honors caucus founder Susan Garfinkel for her longstanding service to the caucus and her commitment to an inclusive, interdisciplinary, welcoming Digital Humanities.” The announcement continues:

We welcome submissions from all including college and university faculty; public scholars; university and K-12 educators including contingent faculty; students at the graduate, undergraduate, and even K-12 level; activists; artists; and all other researchers, creators, and thinkers. We encourage projects in pedagogy, research, documentary, critical making, digital art, and all other forms.

Submitted projects should have been completed or significantly updated during the 2015 or 2016 calendar year. We will announce the prize winner at the 2016 caucus meeting at the American Studies Association conference, but submitters are not required to present at or to attend the conference.

Please help us share the word about this exciting new endeavor, and consider submitting yourself. Submissions are due July 1, 2016, through a Google form.

“Folklore’s Filter” in the New York Times

A recent New York Times article on a Sacred Harp course taught in the Yale music department features my dissertation, “Folklore’s Filter: Race, Place, and Sacred Harp Singing.” The article places the course, taught by Ian Quinn, in the context of recent student protests over racial inequality on campus. For Quinn, “Once the racial tensions broke out on campus, it seemed to me particularly urgent that we spend time talking about” race and Sacred Harp. As Times reporter Phillip Lutz notes, my dissertation “has become a reference for Quinn as he readjusts the course materials as a result of the racial protests.” The article continues:

The dissertation examines how in the civil rights era, a growing number of folklorists began to document black shape-note groups, and festivals started to feature them next to their white counterparts. Speaking to students before the community members arrived to sing, Mr. Quinn invoked Mr. Karlsberg’s analysis of multiracial programming at the Smithsonian’s Festival of American Folklife in 1970. He showed a video of the Wiregrass Sacred Harp Singers, a black shape-note group, performing at the 1983 Smithsonian festival.

But he said that such efforts at recognizing the tradition’s diversity had a limited effect on entrenched attitudes in schools, churches and other places where most of the singing is done. “By nature, Sacred Harp singing is a kind of conservative, tradition-bound practice,” he said. “That’s going to be the issue those of us who would like to see a more diverse community of singers will have to face.”

Mr. Quinn said Mr. Karlsberg’s dissertation represents one of the most sustained counterweights to Jackson’s work to date. Mr. Karlsberg, for his part, said sessions like Mr. Quinn’s might, when coupled with targeted outreach, constitute a forum for diversifying the Sacred Harp experience.

“The welcome mat is there, and the structure, the setup, the practices make it really great for that,” he said.

You can read Lutz’s article, “A Different Note on Race at Yale,” on the New York Times website. Thanks to Ian Quinn for reading my dissertation with his students, and to Phillip Lutz for thoughtfully engaging with the issues my work raises.

“Folklore’s Filter” and a Post-doctoral Fellowship

In August 2015 I graduated from Emory University’s Graduate Institute of the Liberal Arts with a PhD after my dissertation, “Folklore’s Filter: Race, Place, and Sacred Harp Singing,” was accepted by the graduate school. On September 1 I began an exciting new position as Post-doctoral Fellow in Digital Humanities Publishing at the Emory Center for Digital Scholarship.

My dissertation examines the impact of folklorization on Sacred Harp’s associations with race and place. I trace this through the tunebook’s twentieth-century editions and interactions between singers, folklorists, and folk festival audiences. Emory’s electronic theses and dissertations repository features the dissertation’s abstract and table of contents.

In my post-doctoral fellowship I will edit a digital critical edition of Joseph Stephen James’s 1911 Original Sacred Harp, a companion to the Centennial Edition I edited published by Pitts Theology Library and the Sacred Harp Publishing Company this February. The digital edition will use Readux, a tool for annotating and publishing digital critical editions developed by a team from Emory’s Center for Digital Scholarship and the library’s software development team with which I’ve served as annotation and export consultant. My digital critical edition will be the first volume in a series I’m editing using the platform tentatively titled Race and Religion in Turn of the Twentieth-century American Music. In addition to this project, I will teach a class each spring and will continue to pursue my writing and research. I’m happy to have completed my doctoral program and am thrilled to begin this new stage of my career.

Announcing Southern Spaces’s New Mobile-friendly Design

Home page of the redesigned Southern Spaces site. Screen capture courtesy of Southern Spaces.
Home page of the redesigned Southern Spaces site. Screen capture courtesy of Southern Spaces.

In August Southern Spaces, the open access peer-reviewed journal for which I serve as managing editor, launched a new redesigned site. As I described in a blog post announcing the launch the “new design emphasizes visual clarity, readability, richer multimedia, and a mobile-friendly responsive layout [and] introduces a dynamic, open source journal publishing platform” the journal will make available as a Drupal 7 distribution this fall. (( Jesse P. Karlsberg, “Renewing Multimedia Scholarly Publishing: A Streamlined and Mobile-Friendly Design for Southern Spaces,” Southern Spaces Blog, August 19, 2015, ))

The launch of the new site also marks the end of my tenure on the journal’s graduate student staff after two years as managing editor and two additional years in other positions. As I look forward to a new position at Emory’s Center for Digital Scholarship this fall I am also transitioning into a newly created role as the journal’s consulting editor. As consulting editor I will work with the journal’s senior editor, editorial board, and new managing editor Meredith Doster, contributing to discussions on strategy and consulting on the development and distribution of our publishing platform.

Seventh Issue of the Sacred Harp Publishing Company Newsletter

We published the seventh issue of the Sacred Harp Publishing Company Newsletter on Wednesday, which “documents the continuing spread of Sacred Harp singing in Europe, sheds new light on important moments in Sacred Harp’s early history, and reports on recent developments at the Sacred Harp Museum.” I contributed to three pieces in this issue:

  • I coauthored an essay on Elphrey Heritage, a Philadelphia bookkeeper who was the sole northern contributor to nineteenth-century editions of the Sacred Harp tunebook. Christopher Sawula and I uncovered new details about Heritage’s life and work that help explain how his music came to be included in the book.
  • I introduced and annotated this issue’s “Just a Minute” feature: an 1880 memorial to Sacred Harp co-compiler B. F. White included in the minutes of that year’s Chattahoochee Musical Convention.
  • Finally, I wrote a “brief history” of Joseph Stephen James’s 1904 A Brief History of the Sacred Harp. Singer David Saylor recently donated a unique copy of this rare book to the Sacred Harp Museum. I discussed the unusual history of this particular copy and the broader significance of the book.

Nathan Rees and I introduced the issue as follows:

Our issue opens with three writers exploring transatlantic Sacred Harp connections from different angles. Álvaro Witt Duarte’s account of the first Germany Sacred Harp Convention documents an important milestone for European Sacred Harp—and a moving and energetic weekend. Ellen Lueck writes from a broader viewpoint on the recent spread of Sacred Harp singing across the Atlantic. Singers who have wondered about what Sacred Harp is like in Europe will be interested to read her thoughtful observations about these dedicated communities far from the singing’s homeland. Chris Brown takes a historical perspective, investigating nineteenth-century English manuscripts to document thesurprising flow of New England hymn and fuging tunes across the Atlantic long before most historians assumed this ever happened. Jesse P. Karlsberg and Christopher Sawula share another tale of music traveling long distances, revealing the fascinating story of how Elphrey Heritage, a Philadelphia bookkeeper, became the sole northern contributor to the 1870 Sacred Harp. We turn from nineteenth-century printing to cutting-edge technology in Clarissa Fetrow’s review of “FaSoLa Minutes,” an iPhone app for searching Sacred Harp songs, singers, and singings. The latest installment of our series on the stories behind our singings’ minutes reprints the 1880 memorial in memory of Sacred Harp co-compiler Benjamin Franklin White, with new commentary on the text’s historical context. Concluding the issue, Nathan Rees reports on the recent digitization of the Sacred Harp Museum’s collection of open-reel tapes, and Jesse describes a rare copy of Joseph Stephen James’s A Brief History of the Sacred Harp, recently donated to the Sacred Harp Museum.

Vol. 3, No. 2 Contents

Sixth Issue of the Sacred Harp Publishing Company Newsletter

The Sacred Harp Publishing Company recently published the latest issue of the Newsletter. The issue includes my and company executive secretary Karen Rollins’s tributes to 2014 posthumous citation award recipients Jeff and Shelbie Sheppard. I also contributed a short introduction to a 1965 essay by music educator Irving Wolfe on George Pullen Jackson’s contributions to Sacred Harp. Nathan Rees and I introduced this issue of the Newsletter as follows:

The sixth issue of the Sacred Harp Publishing Company Newsletter features stories about key figures and events from Sacred Harp’s history and celebrates the Sacred Harp Museum’s rich collection of songbooks, papers, and recordings.

Our issue begins with company executive secretary Karen Rollins’s and vice president Jesse P. Karlsberg’s tributes to 2014 posthumous citation award recipients Jeff and Shelbie Sheppard. Matt Wells follows with the second installment of our series telling the stories behind the more unexpected moments reported on in the minutes, writing about his and Lara Andersen’s “surprise wedding” at the 2002 Minnesota State Convention. Karen Freund shares excerpts from a conversation 2013 citation award recipient Jerry Enright recorded with Lookout Mountain singer Barrett Ashley about his lifelong love of Sacred Harp singing. Another article features a speech by music educator Irving Wolfe on Sacred Harp scholar George Pullen Jackson’s contributions to our music, which was printed in the minutes of the 1965 United convention. Charlotte Wolfe, Irving’s daughter, introduces the speech with memories of her father’s involvement in Sacred Harp. Rebecca Over shares new findings about the life of Sacred Harp composer Lee Andrew McGraw, shedding light on the role Sacred Harp played in the lives of singers during early decades of the twentieth century. Finally, Nathan Rees reports on a recent donation of a rare 1909 edition of The Sacred Harp to the Sacred Harp Museum and a new initiative to digitize and make available rare and significant items in the museum’s collection.

The Sacred Harp Museum presents three new online resources which complement these articles:

As always, we encourage you to leave comments on these new articles and to write us with your feedback and suggestions of topics for future issues of the Newsletter.

Vol. 3, No. 1 Contents

Fifth Issue of the Sacred Harp Publishing Company Newsletter

We recently published volume 2, number 3 of the Sacred Harp Publishing Company Newsletter. This issue includes an article I co-wrote with Mark T. Godfrey and Nathan Rees on the quantitative effect of Cold Mountain on Sacred Harp singings, an essay by Harry Eskew that I revised on William Walker’s contributions to shape-note hymnody, and a collection of letters of condolence after the death of Sacred Harp patriarch Thomas Jackson Denson that I edited. Nathan Rees and I introduced the new issue of the Newsletter as follows:

The fifth issue of the Sacred Harp Publishing Company Newsletter recounts the extraordinary lives and achievements of significant figures across Sacred Harp’s history and presents new insights drawn from the minutes of Sacred Harp singings.

Our issue begins with Sacred Harp Publishing Company Executive Secretary Karen Rollins’ remembrance of the four 2013 recipients of posthumous citations from the company: Harrison Creel, Jerry Enright, Lonnie Rogers, and George Seiler. Two additional pieces focus on one of the first recipients of a Publishing Company citation, singing school teacher, composer, and Publishing Company co-founder Thomas Jackson Denson. Company President Michael Hinton recounts family stories about “Uncle Tom” Denson, his grandfather, and introduces an account by Denson’s son Howard of his father’s last lesson, at the 1935 United convention. Another article collects letters of condolence written by prominent singers to T. J.’s other son, Paine, in the wake of Denson’s death. Harry Eskew recounts the contributions of nineteenth-century composer, arranger, and songbook editor William Walker, and in an excerpt from a 1964 speech, Hugh McGraw addresses some common criticisms of Sacred Harp singing and describes the state of the tradition in the mid-1960s. Turning to the present, Cheyenne Ivey contributes an account of the eventful trip twenty-two Sacred Harp singers made to Washington, D.C. this fall to join 2013 NEA National Heritage Fellow David Ivey in a celebratory concert. Two additional articles mine the Minutes of Sacred Harp Singings. Nathan Rees shares the story of M. B. Forbes and his harmonica, and Jesse P. Karlsberg, Mark T. Godfrey, and Nathan Rees draw on minutes data from 1995–2013 to measure the effect of Cold Mountain on our singings.

We invite you to leave comments on these new articles and to write us with your feedback and suggestions of topics for the future.

Vol. 2, No. 3 Contents

Fall Presentations

I’ve had some great opportunities this fall to start thinking through the research I’ve been conducting in connection with my dissertation project and to get feedback on my work from colleagues.

  • In October I traveled to the American Folklore Society annual meeting in Providence, Rhode Island, where I presented a paper on the sometimes fraught relationships between Sacred Harp singers and the folklorists who have studied and promoted their music. My paper, titled “Folklorization and Sustainability in the Twentieth-Century Spread of Sacred Harp Singing,” recounted the style’s folklorization during the twentieth century and then assessed how two twenty-first-century efforts to spread Sacred Harp singing ((Specifically, Cold Mountain and Camp Fasola.)) cultivated particular audiences and examined how sustainable these efforts have been.
  • In November I participated in the Atlanta Graduate Student Conference on U.S. History held at Emory University. My paper, “Modernity and Historicization in Joseph Stephen James’s Original Sacred Harp (1911),” examined the circumstances leading to James’s 1911 revision of the nineteenth-century Sacred Harp tunebook. I argued that James sought to both modernize the book so that it better aligned with his vision of a “New South” and to historicize it so that it stood for noble, Christian values James associated with his past and worried might be lost in the shift from rural to urban and antebellum to postbellum. I was grateful for to my session’s respondent Scott L. Matthews, a lecturer in history at Georgia State University who studies documentary expression in the U.S. South.
  • Later in November I presented a paper as part of a session I organized for the American Studies Association annual meeting titled “Folklorization on the National Mall: Representations of Culture through the Smithsonian Folklife Festival.” My co-panelists Virginia Myhaver, Olivia Cadaval, and Diana Baird N’Diaye presented papers that differently interrogated the interactions between curators, presenters, interpreters, and audience members at Smithsonian Festivals from the 1970s to the 2010s. William S. Walker, author of A Living Exhibition: The Smithsonian and the Transformation of the Universal Museum (University of Massachusetts Press, 2013), who has presented and written extensively on the Smithsonian Institution, offered insightful feedback on the papers. My paper, “Participation on Folklore’s Terms: Sacred Harp Singing at the 1970 Smithsonian Festival of American Folklife,” focused on an evening performance by two groups of Sacred Harp singers—one black, the other white—at the 1970 folklife festival. I analyzed how folklorization conditioned the singers’ presentation and reception, and assessed how the two groups approached their appearance and were later affected by it.