Syllabus—Digitizing Folk Music History

Here is the syllabus for the fourth installment of my Digitizing Folk Music History research seminar, in which undergraduate students join me in studying the folk music revival digitally, with a topical concentration on the Berkeley Folk Music Festival and a methodological focus on digital approaches to historical inquiry.

Because the course takes place behind Northwestern’s firewall (copyright issues!), this term I will be offering examples of student work and reflections on the course as it relates to the larger Digital Berkeley Folk Music Festival Project and digital history as a method.

— Michael Kramer

Digitizing Folk Music History

Berkeley Folk Music Festival 1968 Poster Header



Using the digitized archive of the Berkeley Folk Music Festival, students explore the history of the “folk revival,” American music, the culture of the Cold War, and theories of the archive while also investigating new methods in the emerging field digital history. In addition to weekly mini-blog assignments, students complete a final interpretive digital history project based on original research in the Berkeley collection. This project fulfills the History 395 research paper requirement. In the course, we ask what was at stake in the Berkeley Festival, which ran from 1958 to 1970. How did it relate to American culture and politics, questions of race, class, gender, age, and region, and issues of memory and music-making? We also examine how digital media and tools can aid in this pursuit. This is an upper-level research seminar and includes intensive reading, listening, and viewing assignments. Be prepared to complete all work, participate actively in seminar discussions and an online course blog, and challenge yourself both in terms of how you understand history and the digital. Neither musical expertise, nor computer programming skills are needed to enroll in the course. Each student will be evaluated based on class participation, digital mini-projects, blog posts, presentations, and final interpretive digital history projects in WordPress based on primary sources found in the Berkeley Folk Music Festival collection.


Dr. Michael J. Kramer
History & American Studies
Office hours: Tuesday, 2-3pm or by appointment.
Office location: 212 Harris Hall

Technology/Research Consultant

Josh Honn
Center for Scholarly Communication & Digital Curation
Office hours: by appointment.
Office location: Digital Collections, Level 2, East Tower, University Library.

Course Objectives

▪       Deepen understanding of the “folk revival” as a lens on modern US history.

▪       Sharpen historical research skills by wielding evidence effectively to produce new analyses that are in conversation with existing interpretations of the past.

▪       Develop a better sense of cultural history as a methodology.

▪       Investigate the emerging methodologies of digital history: work with multimedia evidence and multimodal argument; use the digital database as a new kind of historical research and publication tool; pursue both “close reading” and “distant reading” of evidence in digital form; discover new relationships between digitized archive, research workshop, publication, and scholarly communication; generate new modes of individual and collective historical inquiry using digital tools; create new approaches to narrative and historical interpretation within digital formats.

▪       Contribute to the digital repository and collection development for The Digital Berkeley Folk Music Festival Project.

Required Materials
(books available at NU Norris Bookstore, on 1-day reserve at NU Library Reserves desk, or through Interlibrary Loan at the NU Library)

▪       Ronald D. Cohen, Rainbow Quest: The Folk Music Revival and American Society, 1940-1970(Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 2002)

▪       Benjamin Filene, Romancing the Folk: Public Memory and American Roots Music (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1999)

▪       Bob Dylan, Chronicles, Volume One (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2005)

▪       W.J. Rorabaugh, Berkeley At War: The 1960s (New York: Oxford University Press, 1989)

▪       Additional articles, videos, audio available on syllabus and course Blackboard website (log in at

▪       1964 and 1968 Digital Berkeley Folk Music Festival Archive via our course WordPress website (


11 blog mini-projects, 5% each = 55%
▪       Original post. Usually due on Mondays by midnight.
▪       At least one substantive and thoughtful comment on a fellow classmate’s post. Be critical, ask questions, respond meaningfully, but do so constructively and supportively. Usually due on Wednesdays by midnight.
▪       One follow-up comment on your post in which you reflect on the mini-project in hindsight. What worked and did not work? What did the mini-project make you think about in terms of history, the folk revival, and using the digital to study the past? Usually due on Fridays by midnight.

Final interpretive digital history project = 25%

Class participation and discussion = 20%
▪      Please come to seminar meetings prepared to discuss the following: What is the most important point you learned from today’s materials? What is the most important question you have about today’s materials? Each student will receive a midterm evaluation, evaluation of final project, and final term evaluation in the course.

▪      Each student will lead one seminar discussion with a partner. Your task is to facilitate our conversation using the questions above: what themes should we address in our materials? What kinds of questions can deepen our understanding of the folk music revival and related historical topics? How are we relating those histories and issues to digital approaches to historical study? Direct us to key passages in our materials, help us to engage with our evidence and the interpretations swirling around it.

You will receive a midterm evaluation from the instructor before the drop deadline and a final evaluation at the end of the course.

Notes on Using a WordPress Course Blog

We will be using a password-protected WordPress blog as the main arena for writing, conversation, and digital research and publication beyond classroom meetings. The blog url is Log in using your Northwestern Net ID and password at WordPress is very simple blogging software, but it can be stretched and expanded in productive ways. For basic instructions on using WordPress, see: But I suggest simply diving in and using it as the platform is fairly intuitive.

Please note that by enrolling in the course, you agree that it is acceptable to share your classroom work as part of the Digital Berkeley Folk Music Festival Project. If you have any concerns—technical, personal, ethical—about public uses of your course blog entries, please feel absolutely free to confer with me to make arrangements. Generally, I advocate what has become known as “open access” in digital work, but there can be very important and worthy exceptions to this philosophy. If you are curious, here is more on the ethics of public blogs for classroom use here:

Academic Integrity

All Weinberg College and Northwestern policies concerning plagiarism and academic dishonesty are strictly enforced in this course. See for more details. In addition, because we are using potentially copyrighted materials in digital form, you will be asked by the Northwestern library to sign a waiver form that you will not violate any copyright laws. If you do so, this also constitutes academic dishonesty. If you have any question as to what constitutes plagiarism or academic dishonesty or copyright violation, please feel free to contact the instructor. Please note that under WCAS and Northwestern policy, the instructor is required to report any suspected instances of academic dishonesty. The instructor also reserves the right to assign a failing grade for the course if a student is found to have violated college or university policy concerning academic integrity.

History Writing Center

The History Department Writing Center is available for students at any level or stage of the writing process: reading evidence, “brainstorming,” generating an argument, connecting argument to evidence, structuring paragraphs and transitions, and improving style and tone. Wen-Qing Ngoie is the History Department Writing Center coordinator. Her office hours are at the Library Cafe (mezz. level) on Mondays and Tuesdays from 11am to 2pm, or by appointment. Students wishing to contact Wen-Qing should email While the University Writing Place ( remains an excellent resource, the History Writing Center, staffed by a department graduate student, offers advice tailored to the specific challenges of writing in a historical mode.

Special Needs

Students with special needs and disabilities that have been declared and documented through the Northwestern Office of Services for Students with Disabilities (SSD) should meet with the instructor to discuss any specific accommodations. For further information, see the Office of Services for Students with Disabilities (SSD) website:


WEEK 1                         INTRODUCTIONS  
Tu 1/7 What the Folk? Introduction.
Th 1/9 What the Folk? Introduction. READING:

  • Barry Olivier, “A Personal Beginning,” and “Folk Music at Berkeley: 1956-1970,” in Berkeley Folk Music Festival Collection, Special Collections, Northwestern University Library, written circa 1973.
  • N.A., “Folk Singing: Sibyl With Guitar,” Time, 23 November 1963.
  • Larry Kelp, “The Berkeley Renaissance,” Berkeley Insider 1, 10 (November 1993): 15-23.
  • Sam Hinton, “The Berkeley Folk Music Festival,” A Handful of Songs: The Life and Times of Sam Hinton (unpublished manuscript, 2001), 219-226.


  • Folk Mix
Mon 1/13, midnight. Blog 1. Set up WordPress account, test WordPress. Write an introductory post that explains (a) what you know about folk music and digital history now, (b) why you are interested in the course, and (c) what is the most intriguing aspect of the syllabus to you.
Tu 1/14 What Was the Folk Revival? READING:

  • Ron Cohen, Rainbow Quest, pp. ix-92.


  • ARM doc film, Part 1.


  • Folk Mix.
Wed 1/15, midnight. Blog comment due.
Th 1/16 What Was the Folk Revival? READING:

  • Cohen, Rainbow Quest, pp. 93-124.


  • ARM doc film, Part 2.


  • Folk Mix.


  • Browse the BFMF Digital Collection. Select a document to annotate.
Fri 1/19, midnight. Blog follow-up comment due.
Mon 1/20, midnight. Blog 2. Crocodoc annotation assignment: (A) article annotation. (B) archival document annotation.
WEEK 3 What Was the Folk Revival? Continued.
Tu 1/21 What Was the Folk Revival? READING:

  • Cohen, Rainbow Quest, pp. 125-228.
  • Robert Cantwell, “When We Were Good: Class and Culture in the Folk Revival,” in Transforming Tradition: Folk Music Revivals Examined, pp. 35-60.
  • Ellen J. Skekert, “Cents and Nonsense in the Urban Folksong Movement: 1930-1966,” in Transforming Tradition: Folk Music Revivals Examined, pp.  84-106.


  • ARM doc film, Part 3 and 4.


  • Folk mix.
Wed 1/22, midnight. Blog comment due.
Th 1/23 Naming Compasses: Folk vs. Roots vs. Vernacular Music READING

  • Cohen, Rainbow Quest, pp. 229-290.
  • Archie Green, “Vernacular Music: A Naming Compass”


  • Greenwich Village: Music That Defined a Generation doc film.


  • Folk mix.


  • BFMF Digital Collection Audio.
  • BFMF Browse archive.
Fri, 1/24, midnight. Blog follow-up comment due.
Mon 1/27, midnight. Blog 3. Timeline assignment.
Tu 1/28 Authenticity Workers: From Leadbelly to the Library of Congress. READING:

  • Filene, Romancing the Folk, pp. ix-182.


  • Pete Seeger: The Power of Song.


  • Filene mix.
Wed 1/29, midnight. Blog comment due.
Th 1/30 The Authenticity Blues. READING:

  • Robert Christgau, “Folk Lore,” New York Times, 10 December 2000,
  • Elijah Wald, Introduction and “What Is the Blues?,” in Escaping the Delta: Robert Johnson and the Invention of the Blues, pp. xiii-13.
  • Warren Bareiss, “Middlebrow Knowingness in 1950s San Francisco: The Kingston Trio, Beat Counterculture, and the Production of ‘Authenticity,'” Popular Music and Society, 33, 1 (February 2010): 9–33.
  • Ray Allen, “In Pursuit of Authenticity: The New Lost City Ramblers and the Postwar Folk Music Revival,” Journal of the Society for American Music 4, 3 (August 2010): 277–305.
  • Brian Jones, “Finding the Avant-Garde in the Old-Time: John Cohen in the American Folk Revival,” American Music 28, 4 (Winter 2010): 402-435.


  • Filene Mix
  • NLCR Covers vs. Originals. Listening Mix.


  • Always Been A Rambler: New Lost City Ramblers


  • BFMF Digital Collection Audio.
  • BFMF Browse archive.
Fri 1/31, midnight. Blog follow-up comment due.
Mon 2/3 Blog 4. Audio remix assignment.Blog 5. Final Project interests blog post.
Tu 2/4 Dylanology. READING:

  • Filene, Romancing the Folk, pp. 183-236.
  • Dylan, Chronicles, pp. 1-100.
  • Grace Elizabeth Hale, “Black as Folk: The Folk Music Revival, the Civil Rights Movement, and Bob Dylan,” in A Nation of Outsiders: How the White Middle Class Fell in Love with Rebellion in Postwar America, pp. 84-131.
  • Barry Shank, “‘That Wild Mercury Sound’: Bob Dylan and the Illusion of American Culture,” boundary 29, 1 (Spring 2002), pp. 97-123.


  • No Direction Home: Bob Dylan.


  • Filene Mix.
Wed 2/5, midnight. Blog comment due.
Th 2/6 Revival READING:

  • Sam Hinton, “The Singer of Folk Songs and His Conscience,” Western Folklore 14, 3 (1955): 170-173; reprinted in Sing Out! 7, 1 (Spring 1957): 24-26.
  • Alan Lomax, “The ‘Folkniks’—and the Songs They Sing,” Sing Out! 9 (1959): 30-31, reprinted in Alan Lomax, Selected Writings, 1934-1997, ed. Ronald D. Cohen.
  • John Cohen, “In Defense of City Folksingers,” Sing Out! 9 (1959): 33-34.
  • Susan Montgomery, “The Folk Furor,” Madamoiselle, December 1960, 98-99, 118.
  • Ralph Gleason, “The Times They Are a Changing,” Ramparts 3, 7 (April 1965), pp. 36-48.
  • Mike Seeger, “A Contemporary Folk Esthetic,” Sing Out! 16, 1, Feb-March 1966.
  • Archie Green, “The Campus Folksong Club: A Glimpse at the Past,” in Transforming Tradition, pp. 61-72.


  • Browse BFMF Digital Collection.
Fri 2/7, midnight. Blog follow-up comment due.
Mon 2/10, midnight. Blog 6. Deformance and Performance Assignment.
Tu 2/11 What is Digital History? READING:

  • Roy Rosenzweig, “Scarcity or Abundance? Preserving the Past in a Digital Era,” American Historical Review 108, 3 (June 2003): 735-762,
  • Tim Hitchcock, “Big Data for Dead People: Digital Readings and the Conundrums of Positivism,” 9 December 2013,
  • Trevor Owens, “Defining Data for Humanists: Text, Artifact, Information, or Evidence?,” Journal of Digital Humanities 1, 1 (April 2012),


  • William G. Thomas III, “What We Think We Will Build and What We Build in Digital Humanities,” History and The Making of Modern America, 15 October 2011,
  • Tara McPherson, “Introduction: Media Studies and the Digital Humanities,” Cinema Journal 48, 2 (Winter 2009): 119-123.
  • Frederick W. Gibbs and Trevor J. Owens, “The Hermeneutics of Data and Historical Writing (Spring 2012 version),” in Writing History in the Digital Age: A Born-Digital, Open-Review Volume, ed. Jack Dougherty and Kristen Nawrotzki,
  • Kenneth Goldsmith, “Archiving Is the New Folk Art,” Harriet: A Poetry Blog, 19 April 2011,


  • Continue work in BFMF Digital Collection.
Wed 2/12, midnight. Blog comment due.
Th 2/13 PopcornMaker/Popcorn.JS workshop
Fri 2/14, midnight. Blog follow-up comment due.
Mon 2/17, midnight. Blog 7. PopcornMaker, Popcorn.js experiments assignment.
Tu 2/18 Research time – no class
Wed 2/19, midnight. Blog comment due.
Th 2/20 Berkeley in the Sixties READING:


  • Berkeley in the Sixties doc film.
Fri 2/21, midnight Blog follow-up comment due.
Mon 2/22, midnight. Blog 8. Mapping assignment.
Tu 2/25 What is a Folk Festival? READING:

  • Ronald D. Cohen, A History of Folk Music Festivals in the United States, pp. vii-xv, 31-111.
  • Robert Cantwell, “Feasts of Unnaming: Folk Festivals and the Representation of Folk Life,” in If Beale Street Could Talk: Music, Community, Culture, 71-110.
  • Ellen Willis, “Newport: You Can’t Go Down Home Again,” in Out of the Vinyl Deeps, pp. 165-172.


  • Festival doc film.
Wed 2/26, midnight. Blog comment due.
Th 2/27 PopcornMaker/Popcorn.js workshop 2
Fri 2/28, midnight. Blog follow-up comment due.
Mon 3/3, midnight. Blog 9. Wireframing/Prezi assignment (conceptualizing argument and flow in an interpretive digital history project).
Tu 3/4 Digital Project Hootenanny!
Wed 3/3, midnight. Blog comment due.
Th 3/6 Conclusions.
Fri 3/7, midnight. Blog 9 follow-up comment due.
Mon 3/10, midnight. Blog 10. Final project draft.Blog 11. Reflections on interpretive digital history.
Fri, 3/21, midnight. FINAL PROJECT DUE.

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