A Musicologist Trying to Crowdsource

This week, as we tackle crowdsourcing in digital art history projects, I’m still at a loss for how the crowd mentality can work in musicology. As most academics in msuicology who need transcriptions do them themselves or pay someone else, I’m unfamiliar with cases of widespread public textual transctiption for msuicological purposes. Moreover, musical transcription should be something all musicologists are trained in, and transcription of aural events to written notation (while problematic) is usually done by the resarcher, as it’s not ususally done for large-scale projects.

Crowdsourcing sheet music, I believe, has been done before, like through Sheet Music Consortium, though I’m not sure how that quite relates to art history. Certainly, the crowdsourcing of songs themselves has been a version of ethnomusicolog, with ethnographeric research practices originating from anthropology. So, while crowdsourcing in ethnomusicology exists, and like in many other crowdsourcing projects, the people helping aren’t always properly credited. There might not be a comparable situation to transcription projects’ crowdsourcing in digital art history projects.

The issue and opportunity with crowdsourcing is more prevalent in DAH (digital art history) projects, I think. The Tate and Smithsonian museums have already implemented crowdsourcing as part of their projects. Many of these have come in the form of audiences participating in photo or object contribution and transcription. This can be used as a way to circumvent issues of hegemony in museum display work. This way, broader audiences are represented and reached through information in part curated by their peers. There are issues with this, however, as crediting these contributors is important, and it is also difficult to make sure that people who are experts with or without degrees in these fields have a chance to contribute and organize in such a way that it can be useful for their CV’s. While I don’t like the idea of experts being possessive over their work as a form of elitism, I do support the valuing of experts for the work they do and the unique experience and perspective they bring. The notion, though, that experts are the only ones who can contribute valuable and informed information, seems incredibly exclusionary to me. I think that embracing crowdsourcing as a means of not only getting interested people involved but also embracing a multiplicity of perspectives is incredibly valuable.

This segues into what I think is a mroe practical form of crowdsourcing for musicology projects – edit-a-thons for wikipedia or other online public knowledge sites. Wikipedia is the best example I have of this, as it has become ubiquitous for nearly everyone who uses the internet on a regular basis. Wikipedia also has a couple ways in which it tries to get informaiton from experts on its bibliographic pages. Contributing to GLAMwiki or edit-a-thons is a good way for academics to get involved. After all, if professors know their students will go to the wiki page, they might as well take advantage of the fact that they themselves can help control what’s on those pages!

While the art library at UNC has edit-a-thons, I haven’t seen such opportunities in the music library. Though, I’m sure this opportunity could be very exciting for those who love music! GLAMwiki is also an exciting opportunity for scholars and institutions to propose and execute projects which contribute to public knowledge of a subject. The GLAMwiki initiative – an acronym for “galleries, libraries, archives, and museums,” is a great place for “cultural professionals” and “wikimedians” to contribute published research, images, artworks, biographies, video/audio archival objects, and bibliographic references. GLAM events include edit-a-thons and other events where contributors are encouraged to participate in curating this online information.

Since wiki bios have to be about people notable enough to ahve a bio, I would love to see an edit-a-thon for female composers that includes uploading lots of archival proof of their achievements, so that their work is highlighted and used as evidence of their relevance.

Overall, I think that I need to brainstorm more ways in which crowdsourced transcription will either help or hurt musicological research.