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.
This fall I’m presenting internationally on Sacred Harp singings geography, history, racial politics, and contemporary relationship to the past. I’m also speaking on Southern Spaces’s newly redesigned Drupal-based website and on Readux, Emory’s new platform for reading and annotating digitized books and publishing digital critical editions.
In late August I traveled to Utrecht, in the Netherlands, to give a pair of presentations on Sacred Harp’s history and the relationship of contemporary singers to that past. My talk “Resonance and Reinvention: Sounding Historical Practice in Sacred Harp’s Global Twenty-First Century” at the Stichting voor Muziekhistorische Uitvoeringspraktijk [Foundation for Historical Musical Performance Practice] described frames of folk and early music applied to Sacred Harp singing have affected contemporary singers’ and performing ensembles’ conceptions of the style’s aesthetics. This symposium is held each year in conjunction with the Festival Oudemuziek Utrecht, a large international early music festival. The festival this year featured a Sacred Harp singing school taught by Cath Tyler of Newcastle, United Kingdom, and an all-day singing, the first in the Netherlands. In addition to participating in the singing, I gave a short talk on Sacred Harp’s history and geography to complement Cath’s singing school.
In October and November I’ll give two additional talks on Sacred Harp’s history, here centered on interactions between folklorists and Sacred Harp singers in the field and at folk festivals. In “Separate but Equal?: Civil Rights on Stage at Sacred Harp Folk Festival Performances, 1964–1970” at the American Studies Association in Toronto, Canada, part of a session I organized on “Race and Resistance in the Folklorization and Reappropriation of Musical Cultures of Struggle,” I’ll describe how folk festival organizers drew on ideas about the civil rights and folk music movements when deciding how to program Sacred Harp singers at the 1964 Newport Folk Festival and the 1970 Smithsonian Festival of American Folklife, and will speak about how these concerns differed from singers’ own priorities. Later, at the Alabama Folklife Association’s Fall into Folklife symposium, I’ll speak about Alan Lomax’s relationship to Sacred Harp singing, focusing on the recordings that emerged from his visit to 1959 United Sacred Harp Musical Association in Fyffe, Alabama, and the encounter’s influence on Sacred Harp singing ever since.
One final talk on Sacred Harp singing, at the American Academy of Religion meeting in Atlanta, Georgia, illuminates a little-told chapter of Sacred Harp’s racial history. In “The Black in ‘White Spirituals,'” I detail the racial politics and musical landscape of the nineteenth-century West Georgia setting in which the Sacred Harp’s compilers lived and worked. I argue that revival choruses, the song form most characteristic of the editions of The Sacred Harp edited in this region, emerged from the mixed-race religious context of early nineteenth century camp meetings, and may have reached the ears of Sacred Harp contributors sung by enslaved African Americans.
I’ll also give three presentations this fall on new digital platforms I’ve helped develop for open access journal and scholarly edition publishing. In presentations at the Digital Library Federation in Vancouver, Canada (with Sarah Melton), and at Drupalcamp Atlanta (with Daniel Hansen), I’ll detail the Drupal 7–based platform for scholarly journal publishing developed for Southern Spaces in conjunction with Sevaa Group, Inc., a project I oversaw as the journal’s managing editor. I’ll also speak at Emory University’s Currents in Research lecture series on the Readux platform’s value for editing and publishing annotated facsimile digital scholarly editions.
This spring I’m presenting on a range of topics on the cultural politics and book history of Sacred Harp singing in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. The topics range from the Philadelphia print culture that produced the meticulously composed Sacred Harp editions of the 1840s–1860s to 1960s black South Alabama singers’ disagreements over the politics of protest.
In February I presented a paper co-written with Christopher Sawula at the Auburn University Montgomery Southern Studies conference on the life and music of Philadelphia bookkeeper Elphrey Heritage. Our paper argues that many of the songs Heritage contributed to tunebooks like The Christian Minstrel, The Hesperian Harp, The Social Harp, and TheSacred Harp, show musical markers of close and dispersed harmony styles. Combined with evidence of social interaction between Heritage, his employer the printer Tillinghast King Collins, and tunebook compilers William Hauser and John G. McCurry, Heritage’s music offers a glimpse into a Philadelphia social scene in the 1840s and 1850s that affected the form of southern shape-note tunebooks to a greater extent than commonly acknowledged.
I presented at another conference in Atlanta the following weekend, the Southern American Studies Association, on the politics of race and protest that emerged in a 1968 field recording in which SUNY Buffalo music professor William H. Tallmadge interviews south Alabama reverend Shem Jackson, a son of Colored Sacred Harp compiler Judge Jackson. During an interview largely about services and singings at Jackson’s church the conversation unexpectedly turns to Jackson’s resistance to his daughter Mary’s participation in student protest at Tuskegee Institute—protests which Tallmadge seems to regard positively. I presented this paper as part of a panel on race and Sacred Harp singing, where I was joined by Nathan Rees, who spoke about the Wiregrass singers’ album cover art, and Jonathon Smith, who discussed celtic imagery in representations of East Tennessee New Harp of Columbia singers. Douglas Harrison, an insightful scholar of southern gospel, chaired our session.
Earlier this month I presented a paper on how Texas singers associate the layout of pre–digitally retypeset Sacred Harp editions with the sound of small rural singings and find both an impediment to efforts promoting the style to urban(e) southern audiences. My paper, delivered at the annual meeting of the Society of American Music in Sacramento, drew on Buell Cobb‘s metaphor of “the South’s ring of repugnance” to describe how such singers invest the digital with the potential to erase the vernacular rusticity that some newer singers romanticize, echoing a folkloric paradigm.
Later this month I will travel to Boston for the Nineteenth Century Studies Association, where I will speak about the nineteenth century editions of The Sacred Harp. Far from a vernacular folk production, The Sacred Harp was a meticulously produced publication of T. K. and P. G. Collins, a high status firm at the center of the emerging national book trade.
I’ll travel from Boston to Portland, Oregon, to present one final paper, discussing the Readux platform under development at the Emory Center for Digital Scholarship at the Library Publishing Forum. Readux is a new tool for reading, annotating, and publishing digital critical editions of digitized texts. The open source platform is designed to foreground scanned page images, paired with fully searchable text and robust multimedia annotations mapped to page regions. A digital critical edition of Original Sacred Harp will serve as a proof of concept demonstration of the tool’s capacity and will be the first in a series of editions featuring nineteenth- and twentieth-century sacred tunebooks and manuscripts, but the platform will also be available for use, for free of charge, by others interested in editing and publishing digital critical editions.