Friday, October 9, 2009

Google Keeps Changing the Music Reception History Game

For two chapters of my dissertation (remember that?), I attempted to tackle that music history beast known as reception history. I spent weeks on end in libraries browsing through old issues of Vogue, Downbeat, New Yorker, and Billboard among other periodicals. And as I refined my ideas about samba in the 1940s and bossa nova in the 1960s, I sometimes had to revisit these collections causing further damage to my eyesight. (Nothing exhausts one's eyes quite like spending days in a row searching and browsing microfilm.) But this process was good for me. It hardened my research resolve, and I had the opportunity to make connections that otherwise would not have been possible.

But I have a confession to make: I knew to search in these periodicals because I did a few lazy searches in ProQuest's historical newspaper database. If that didn't exist, I never would have thought about going down that road. For many young scholars, ProQuest and other services like it changed the game of how we do reception history, and on a larger level, research. The mere fact that someone was treating old periodicals the way that Lexis Nexus or IIMP treated recent stuff was a revelation.

A few months ago, I heard something absolutely crazy through Phil's Blog: Google Books now has full issues of Billboard on hand. They also have Life Magazine, New York Magazine, The Village Voice and Ebony. This is fascinating. Of course, as luck would have it, Google Books did this well after I defended and filed my dissertation, so I am officially off the hook for what a lazy person's word search might reveal. However, as I adapt my research for publication, I cannot ignore what recent searches turn up. Already, my mind is spinning and I am already embarking on similar browsing sessions that I never would have considered were it not for digitization. Many people bemoan the lost insights that come with not having to do searches while being physically present in the library (you know, those books you only would have picked up because they were on the same shelf as something you sought out). But in this case, there are some clear positives. Thank you Google! You keep changing the research game.

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