Category: <span>News</span>

Sounding Spirit Receives $344,687 NEH Grant for its Sacred Music Digital Library

Sounding Spirit project director Jesse P. Karlsberg has received a third grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) to continue the pioneering work of his research lab that promotes collaborative engagement with southern sacred songbooks. This $344,687 grant from the NEH’s Humanities Collections and References Resources (HCRR) program builds on the success of a one-year HCRR-funded planning project co-administered by Karlsberg and managing editor and project manager Meredith Doster that produced a pilot digital library featuring twenty-two books from four partner archives. Karlsberg and Doster will lead a multi-institutional team anchored at Emory University’s Center for Digital Scholarship (ECDS) in a three-year project expanding the Sounding Spirit digital library to include 1,284 additional books of vernacular sacred music from the US South published between 1850 and 1925. The digital library will complement Sounding Spirit’s annotated facsimile editions of five influential books of sacred southern vernacular music. The scholarly editions series is co-published by the University of North Carolina Press and ECDS and made possible by an NEH Scholarly Editions and Translations grant received in 2018.

The four digital library archival partners will be joined by two new contributors, together holding an impressive range of southern sacred song:

The expanded Sounding Spirit digital library will pair the rich holdings of these new and returning partners with metadata and descriptive entries that place each work in cultural context. The Sounding Spirit project team will collaborate with leading scholars and practitioners to organize all volumes into collections that highlight communities of use, places of origin, genres, and formats. The digital library will be made freely available to the public on a site built using the ECDS-developed, state-of-the-art Readux platform. Building on workflows developed and vetted during the yearlong planning process, contributing archives will digitize selected works at high levels of quality and consistency. Sounding Spirit’s project team will conduct optical character recognition (OCR) and music information retrieval (MIR) on digitized volumes, collecting information about the corpus’ musical and textual contents. Each book will also be accompanied by standard metadata to facilitate interoperability with the Digital Public Library of America (DPLA), increasing the works’ discoverability. These fields will be supplemented by additional descriptive metadata that incorporate and expand on research conducted to produce the “Checklist of Southern Sacred Music Imprints, 1850–1925.” Compiled by music bibliographer Erin Fulton and project director Karlsberg, this checklist was a major deliverable of the pilot grant and serves as a blueprint for the library’s expansion.

In addition to making this corpus of sacred southern song accessible, the NEH grant will support the research and writing of 425 volume summaries, 100 collection descriptions, and 15 bibliographic essays that will orient readers to the works and their makers, contributing to both the use and understanding of these materials. Editorial lead Meredith Doster will coordinate a research and writing campaign that invites scholars, practitioners, and students to join in the work of framing the library’s materials. These scholarly entries will connect volumes and collections to the library’s foci of race, place, religion, culture, and genre, ensuring that this large-scale digitization project produces an archive intentionally calibrated to questions and considerations of equity across several lines of difference.

The Sounding Spirit digital library will expand the canon of American sacred music by including songbooks from a wide range of underrepresented populations not yet fully acknowledged as important contributors to American history. These music books document little-known publishing practices such as the hymnals and missionizing texts of regional denominations; the words-only hymnals made for displaced Creek, Cherokee, and Choctaw populations; the prolific publishing of black Pentecostal Christians such as holiness minister C. P. Jones; and the music publishing of Polish, Czech, Greek, and German immigrant populations. The sacred songbooks included in the digital library refract historical events such as the Civil War, the rise of the New South, and the early waves of the Great Migration through diverse perspectives situated at the margins of the then-emerging industrial book trade. These perspectives include diverse voices and communities spanning an expansive definition of the US South and its diasporas, as well as a wide range of denominational affiliations. Individually and collectively, these works have the potential to change the way researchers, teachers, and members of the public access and understand music’s relationship to American history, culture, and practice.

Jesse P. Karlsberg, Sounding Spirit project director, technical lead, editor-in-chief, and ECDS senior digital scholarship strategist will collaborate with managing editor and project manager Meredith Doster in advancing this initiative. Digital text specialist Sarah Palmer, software engineer Jay Varner, digital asset librarian Ann McShane, and music bibliographer Erin Fulton will contribute to Emory’s efforts, joined on the project staff by digitization supervisor Sarah Dorpinghaus of the University of Kentucky. A new slate of advisory board members will join digitization specialists, archivists, and content experts from each of the six partner archives to round out the project team.

In the funding announcement, NEH acting chairman Adam Wolfson described grant recipients as embodying “excellence, intellectual rigor, and a dedication to the pursuit of knowledge, even as our nation and the humanities community continue to face the challenges of the pandemic.” Sounding Spirit looks forward to collaborating with all partners on the expansion of this digital library in the service of transformative public-facing humanities scholarship in this season of compounding challenge. At the conclusion of the grant period, Sounding Spirit plans to stage a series of physical exhibitions showcasing the library at multiple partner institutions. A planned 2024 symposium at Emory University will feature performances and interactive singing sessions that encourage scholarship and public engagement with the digital library’s works.

Ready? Set? Digitize!

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.

Sounding Spirit Receives $260,000 NEH Grant for Digital Scholarly Editions

National Endowment for the Humanities new grant recipients announcement graphic comprised of an image representing each of several of the grant recipient projects

Sounding Spirit is pleased to announce receipt of a $260,000 grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH)’s Scholarly Editions and Translations program. This three-year peer reviewed grant will facilitate the editing and production of digital editions of five representative songbooks of gospel music, spirituals, shape-note music, and lined-out hymn singing.

The digital editions, richly annotated with text and multimedia, will be built using Readux, a platform developed by the Emory Center for Digital Scholarship (ECDS) for browsing, annotating, and publishing with digitized books. The digital and print editions will be co-published by ECDS and the University of North Carolina Press in a groundbreaking open access publishing partnership.

Jesse P. Karlsberg, editor-in-chief of Sounding Spirit and ECDS senior digital scholarship strategist will direct the grant project. ECDS’s Allen Tullos, Sara Palmer, Jay Varner, Yang Li, and Robert A. W. Dunn will also contribute expertise to the project. A new Sounding Spirit managing editor will join the team thanks to the NEH’s support.

Sounding Spirit is one of 218 projects to receiving funding, and one of two projects involving ECDS. According to NEH chairman Jon Parrish Peede, Sounding Spirit and the other projects funded by the NEH “strengthen and sustain the cultural life of our nation and its citizens.”

Sounding Spirit Receives $58,230 Second Grant from NEH for Sacred Music Digital Library

National Endowment for the Humanities new grant recipients graphic

The National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) announced in March 2019 that Sounding Spirit has received an additional grant of $58,230 to support our work making songbooks accessible. This grant from the NEH’s Humanities Collections and Reference Resources program supplements our fall 2018 grant from the NEH Scholarly Editions and Translations program and will support our planning process for the upcoming year, as well as a pilot launch of a digital library of historical songbooks complementing our digital scholarly editions.

The following four archives with outstanding collections of vernacular sacred music books will partner with us in this grant project:

This expanded team of public and private institutions with a range of approaches to digitization and digital archiving will first draft and vet processes for digitization and ingest that meet the partners’ various institutional needs. To test these processes, we will launch a pilot site in which each grant partner will contribute five volumes consistent with the focus of the initiative and representative of their collections’ strengths. The planning work will be shared through a publicly accessible white paper and at scholarly meetings in order to support other consortiums of scholars and libraries engaging in related digitization, annotation, and collection work.

Sounding Spirit editor-in-chief Jesse P. Karlsberg will direct the planning process, along with managing editor Meredith Doster and ECDS‘s Allen Tullos and Jay Varner. The team will devise best practices for digitization and Readux publishing with the help of Emory LITS scholarly communications expert Melanie Kowalski and digitization team leader Kyle Fenton, as well as digitization and content consultants from each of the four partner archives.