the digital berkeley folk music festival project.
I am presenting an overview of Making History in a Virtual Archive: The Digital Berkeley Folk Music Festival Project at this weekend’s HASTAC 2011 conference. Hope to see you there!
HASTAC 2011 Slides (pdf).
Making History in a Virtual Archive: The Digital Berkeley Folk Music Festival Project
Lead Investigator: Michael J. Kramer, History & American Studies, Northwestern University, email@example.com
Research question: What would a digital folk music festival look like—one that includes formal and informal performance, a rich exchange of musical and intellectual ideas, diverse participation, scholarly lectures and publications, and both specialized and generalist workshops, panels, and roundtables?
Project overview: The Digital Berkeley Folk Music Festival Project uses Northwestern University’s Berkeley Folk Music Festival Collection to enable multi-authored, multimodal investigations grounded in archival study. By bringing together on one platform a digital repository, online research workshop, publishing environment, and space for scholarly communication, the DBFMFP creates a space for producing new knowledge about vernacular music, cultural heritage, culture, history, and the digital humanities. A robust, interoperable digital repository anchors the project, with the capacity to link up to other relevant digital collections. A suite of open-source tools then allows users to access and experiment with digitized materials, annotating, manipulating, and “touching” archival objects in new ways to generate fresh interpretations and analyses. From these explorations of archival materials, individual presentations and collaborative interactions can then take place on the DBFMFP platform. Advanced scholars, musicians conducting research for new compositions and performances, K-12 educators and students, music aficionados, and the general public can access a rich, vibrant research culture that enhances historical knowledge of the 1950s and 60s folk revival, connects to related historical topics and contemporary concerns, and investigates the ways in which the digital is rearranging the boundaries between the archive, research practices, publication, and scholarly conversation.
About the collection: The Berkeley Folk Music Festival was held from 1957-1970 on the campus of the University of California, Berkeley. It featured a wide range of performers: rediscovered traditional American musicians, international musicians, emerging singer-songwriters, and contemporary rock and soul bands. In 1974, Northwestern University Library purchased the archive from Barry Olivier, founder and director of the festival. The collection includes posters, audio, video, memoranda, ephemera, business records, and a particularly rich trove of photographs.
History plain and simple: To develop new understandings of the American folk music revival, United States cultural history, and other relevant historical topics.
Digitizing historical interpretation: To create a digital environment that enables new modes of linking archival evidence to historical argument, interpretation, and debate by imagining responses to Tara McPherson’s question, “How do you ‘experience’ or ‘feel’ an argument in a more immersive and sensory-rich space?”
Digitizing historical methods: To investigate how digitizing archival objects allows, paradoxically, for a new kind of material history to emerge. The keyword is manipulation. What are the ways that the digital enables the ability to “touch” archival objects through direct manipulation, comparison, multiperspectival views, collaging, collation, and more?
Digitizing historiography: To develop digital modes of historiographical debate. The keyword is annotation. How do we create databases and digital platforms that allow for annotation of archival objects and, just as crucially, annotations of those annotations, ad infinitum? This chain of annotation is, in one sense, history itself in digitized form.
Scales of historical inquiry: To explore questions of scale, the dialectic between individual and cooperative research, the movement between large-scale, algorithmic analysis and focused, qualitative interpretative projects.
Interoperability: To develop more interoperable digital repositories, databases, and project results within one archive and, eventually, among multiple archives: linked folk music archives, or linked digital repositories about Berkeley, or linked digital repositories about arts festivals.
Of platforms and content management systems: To explore the question of content management systems; or, how much should we reinvent the wheel; or, to WordPress or not to WordPress?
The digital commons: To probe the question of intellectual property rights, cultural heritage, and historical learning in the digital age, drawing upon the fraught legacies of folk ideology and practice.
The digital and print: To investigate how digital and print modes of publication might better complement each other; as part of the project, we will publish an essay collection and coffee table book about the Berkeley Folk Music Festival.
The digital and the face-to-face: To examine how the movement between digital and face-to-face interactions such as the classroom, campus talks, and exhibitions can produce new knowledge.
Multiple users: To design a platform that functions well for advanced humanities scholars, musicians and other artists conducting research, K-12 and college teachers and students, folk aficionados, and the general public—and for communication between different groups of users.
Digitizing one year of the festival to experiment with questions of repository design, tool design, and platform interoperability.
Yearly digital history research seminar, “Digitizing Folk Music History.” In a WordPress environment, students develop individual research projects and work cooperatively on the archival study of the Berkeley Folk Music Festival and the American folk music revival as a whole.
Research team and affiliates: Northwestern University Library Digital Collections, Special Collections, Office of Scholarly Communication, Northwestern University Press, Northwestern University Information Technology Academic and Research Technologies Division, Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences Information Technology.
Please feel free to contact us with ideas, comments, critiques, and suggestions, firstname.lastname@example.org.
For more information, visit Issues in Digital History, www.issuesindigitalhistory.net.
 Tara McPherson, “Introduction: Media Studies and the Digital Humanities,” Cinema Journal 48, 2 (Winter 2009), 121.