Musicology in the Blogosphere

July 3, 2010 at 5:35 pm 6 comments

The following is the full text of Ryan & Drew’s recent piece in the August 2010 AMS newsletter (VOLUME XL, NUMBER 2), which appeared shortened therein due to considerations of space:

Whither the Musicological Blogosphere?

Before the rise of the academic journal, intellectuals shared their ideas through an informal network of correspondence that became known as the “invisible college.” More recently, this seventeenth-century term has been applied to the modern-day equivalent: the academic blog.  Consider the parallels: the blogosphere allows for individual scholars to informally share formal ideas with colleagues beyond their home institution.  At the same time, the public nature of a blog makes this community both visible and boundless.  Scholars freely communicate not only with other academic types, but with the world at large.  For this reason, we like to think of our blog, Amusicology.com, as an “invisible conference.”

For the past three years, we have run and been the lead contributors for amusicology.com, a general-interest musicology blog that averages 2,500 visitors per month.  At the 2007 meeting of the Society for American Music, we realized that there was now the technological potential for easy scholarly exchange in a public setting all the time, not just a few times a year. Conferences serve not only the purpose of trying out new ideas prior to submission to a journal, but they also allow scholars to explore a new topic, learn more about a different one, or just sit in the hotel lobby with colleagues, throw some ideas together and see what happens. But most national conferences and professional meetings happen only once a year. It occurred to us that blogs were underutilized as a form of scholarly communication. We quickly arrived at a few ground rules for our own contributions, as well as those of our guest posters. First, all posts had to be 1,000 words or less. Secondly, we wanted our ideas to be fully formed. Despite the fact that they are touted as a form of new media, blogs often seem to lack the filter and focus necessary for prose ideas to take on their fullest coherence. So we wanted to steer clear of that kind of reportage—of the army of words marching around in search of an idea.

People tend to start blogging because they believe that they have something worth sharing with whatever community to which they imagine their words will appeal.  We continue to post because we feel that we address subjects and issues that our readers find interesting.  All authors like to think that readers hang on their every word, but we are fully aware that this is not the case.  Sometimes a post will receive a lot of commentary, sometimes it passes almost completely unnoticed.  Either way, as is the case with all musicology blogs, the medium provides an opportunity to circumvent the traditional means of scholarly distribution.  Rather than present a conference paper and then publish one’s findings via an academic journal or book, a blog allows for instant dissemination to a broad community of readers.

Most of our readers are recent PhDs or graduate students. At the same time, there are also many non-academics who read our posts as a result of the public nature of our blog.  This includes those who stumble upon it as a result of a Google search, meaning that we’re read by a lot of people beyond musicology and beyond academia.

At the present moment, this “open to anyone” feature of the musicological blog prevents more academic-types from sharing their work in such a venue.  We’ve invited scholars from all points in their careers to submit pieces to Amusicology and so far only a handful of recent PhDs and graduate students have contributed.  We understand the reluctance to contribute to (let alone run) a musicology blog. In addition to the time commitment, the thought of writing for a large anonymous public can be daunting – at least in a conference room you can see who is listening. Some of the challenges of blogging have been revealed by Jonathan Bellman, a blogger on the site “Dial M for Musicology” who retired from blogging at the end of May. Bellman felt he had simply run out of things to say, commenting that he was “keenly aware that if I’m not exactly a One-Trick Pony, readers know this pony’s very few tricks too well.”[1]

What role does blogging play for musicology?  That is just what we are trying to figure out. It seems clear that the only constant is change, and who knows what technology is incubating now that might supersede blogs. We have recently started an Amusicology presence on Twitter, although it is not always clear what kind of scholarly information can be broadcast in 140 characters or less. As we explore the various ways technology can be used to further scholarly communication, we hope to see an increasing adoption by a wider range of scholars. Blogs are an excellent way to store scholarly thinking and communicate with both musicologists and humanists at large. We would be thrilled to see that ecosystem expand.

—Ryan Bañagale and Drew Massey


[1] Jonathan Bellman, “Exit (Still) Writing,” <http://musicology.typepad.com/&gt;, accessed 1 June 2010.

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Entry filed under: Drew Massey, musicologists, musicology, professional development, publishing, Ryan Raul Bañagale. Tags: , , , .

“The end of Dial ‘M’?” or “Why run a musicology blog?” Guest Blog by Ralph Locke: Refreshing the Discourse–and Reaching Out

6 Comments

  • 1. Steven Baker  |  July 5, 2010 at 2:44 pm

    Another excellent use for academic-subject blogs is they introduce prospective academics to the field. I am an undergraduate jazz performance major and due to reading musicological blogs (and blogs of composers like Kyle Gann) I realized that I really did want to pursue musicology (while before I just thought it might be something cool, but who would want a jazz musician in a field which, to the average undergrad, appears to be solely about antiquities) because the blogs showed me the wide range of subject matter than a musicologist can explore beyond talking about madrigals and obscure organ parts (not to knock those subjects.)

  • 2. John Hausmann  |  July 9, 2010 at 9:38 am

    Do you know how one goes about adding their site to the AMS site list?

  • 3. Ryan Raul Bañagale  |  July 11, 2010 at 10:34 am

    @Steven – Thanks for reading. I’m glad that these different blogs are helping you find a place in the field. You’ve probably encountered my post on becoming a musicologist, which is a response to one from Dial M's blog. Good luck with your future studies!

    @John – Email Bob Judd at the AMS office and he'll hook you up!

  • 4. The Year One ADME  |  July 13, 2010 at 8:54 am

    [...] “meta-musicological” rants. In the new era, this has actually worsened. Currently many of my favorite writers are spending more time describing their blogs (and other’s blogs) than they are actually [...]

  • 5. Zoe  |  August 1, 2010 at 9:17 am

    Hi Ryan and Drew, I think that it’s important to note that just because something doesn’t get comments, that does not mean that it wasn’t read. I’m often surprised to meet people who follow this (and other) blogs, even if they don’t leave obvious traces. Of course, as the blog moderators you would both have information about the traffic, but in general, I think it’s worth keeping in mind!

    In this way, blogs are not actually so different than scholarly articles. After all, not every article gets cited immediately, but that doesn’t mean that it wasn’t read.

  • 6. News and Housekeeping « The Taruskin Challenge  |  August 1, 2010 at 1:20 pm

    [...] August 1, 2010 by Zach Wallmark Mark and I were recently interviewed by Prof. Marica Tacconi for the August AMS newsletter (view the newsletter here or download it from the AMS site here). The issue also features a great essay on musicology and blogging by the stalwart Ryan Bañagale and Drew Massey at amusicology. [...]


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Amusicology is an online forum for musicologists, academic or otherwise. Although Ryan Raul Banagale and Drew Massey are its founders and chief contributors, we welcome guest submissions. Please let us know if you would like to contribute a guest posting. Comments are always welcome and encouraged!

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