starting to historicize the folk revival in “digitizing folk music history” seminar.
We spent last week in Digitizing Folk Music History (see all posts on the course) beginning to move from our opening question—what is folk music, anyway?—to an initial description and interpretation of the folk revival and folk music using Ron Cohen’s Rainbow Quest: The Folk Music Revival & American Society, 1940-1970 and the 2001 documentary film American Roots Music, directed by Jim Brown. Over the next few weeks we will be using seminar discussions and digital tools to grapple with the “macro” narrative of folk music and the folk revival in the US. We will also be considering the relationship of the big story to various micro and middle-level histories. (We’re using the digital as a way to think about scale, among other topics.)
To get into the material, students will annotate text documents we are reading (a 1963 article on the folk revival from Time magazine; Barry Olivier’s reflections on the Berkeley Folk Music Festival; and a 1993 Larry Kelp article on the musical “Berkeley Renaissance”) using the Crocodoc annotation tool, they will build tables (a key research tool and form—the database—that underlies so much multimedia publishing that can also be used to compile descriptive elements and begin to determine their significance on the way to an interpretation), and they will write short essays.
Then we’ll turn to timeline building using timeline.js in order to explore how historians construct temporal narratives at a macro-level, middle-level, and micro-level and how we might start to think about the benefits and shortcomings of a linear approach, as well as what other temporal representations might enhance our organizing of the US folk revival into a historicized set of occurrences, themes, people, places, forces. A few notes below from class. Next up: a few examples of student annotations, table building, and essay writing from this year’s seminar.
Notes from the board and class:
What are different ways of thinking about and tracking folk music? Mediation, circulation. Even though we think of folk music as the “root system” or the watershed whose streams feed contemporary music’s raging river (metaphors of Marty Stuart and Ricky Skaggs, beginning of American Roots Music), how might we describe (“annotate”) artifacts from the revival such as songs, reviews, posters, performances, recordings, business records, ephemera to make sense of how the revival existed (and continues to exist) as a cultural phenomena in motion? How is tradition paradoxically represented and re-represented over time?
We pursued a collective “close viewing” of the opening sequence in American Roots Music. What is going on here from the very start of the film? How, as images, sounds, “talking heads” edited together, is it making its argument in form as well as content? How might we catch these and describe them (again, “annotate” them)? And then, building up from descriptions of those details, what is the documentary’s implicit (and sometimes quite explicit) argument exactly?
Talkin’ History Blues: folk revival consciousness asks us to think about how do we conceptualize historical time: linear, whether ascension/progress or declension/decline or circular or fragmented or pastiche or some other sense of temporality?