Sounding Spirit Launches Pilot Digital Library

The Sounding Spirit team is delighted to announce the launch of its inaugural digital library. The product of a one year NEH Humanities Collections and Reference Resources Foundations grant, the pilot digital library features songbooks and hymnals published across the US South from 1850 to 1925. A federated collection spanning holdings from four partner archives, the Sounding Spirit digital library features twenty-two books of vernacular sacred including words-only hymnals, gospel songbooks, spirituals collections, and shape-note tunebooks. Curated into collections that highlight places, genres, denominational affiliations, and notation styles of American sacred music, the digital library allows for rich engagement with songbooks and hymnals seminal in their respective eras, but historically underrepresented in both archival holdings and scholarship.

The Emory Center for Digital Scholarship collaborated on this pilot library with four partner archives whose holdings complement Sounding Spirit’s research focus: Pitts Theology Library at Emory University, the John Jacob Niles Center for American Music at the University of Kentucky, the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary Archives and Special Collections, and the Center for Popular Music at Middle Tennessee State University.

The Sounding Spirit team and partner archives are already at work on the next phase of the digital library, planning to digitize hundreds of volumes identified during this planning grant process. Music bibliographer Erin Fulton collaborated with project director Jesse P. Karlsberg on the “Checklist of Southern Sacred Music Imprints, 1850–1925” that will guide the next phase of the project. As a dataset, the checklist already offers rich opportunities for researching the contours of American sacred songbook publishing. In addition to expanding the library, the team is also planning to incorporate lesson plans and teaching materials for a variety of learning levels, scholarly essays, and data visualizations about the site’s songbooks into the expanded Sounding Spirit digital library site. Until then, the Sounding Spirit team is excited to make these first collections of volumes accessible for research, teaching, and discovery.

Sounding Spirit invites audiences to begin exploring the initial batch of songbooks in the pilot digital library. Scholars, educators, and practitioners of all kinds are welcome! The project team hopes users will take full advantage of the platform’s features to engage the texts and textual communities whose publishing histories and singing practices can reframe our understanding of American sacred music—one text at a time.