Hearing the Americas

Director and Principal Investigator, 2017
Funder: National Endowment for the Humanities, Digital Projects for the Public

National Endowment for the Humanities, Digital Projects for the Public Discovery grant to plan an accessible, digital public humanities project that will increase users’ understanding of the transnational roots of American popular music. The digitized music collections available in the Library of Congress’s (LC) National Jukebox and the University of California at Santa Barbara’s (UCSB) Cylinder Audio Archive expose the diversity of American popular music before 1925. These songs will provide the building blocks for the team to design a digital public project that will ask users how well they know their music history and invite them to discover a rich contextual network of related historical collections. Over the course of the grant, the team will research the audio and archival collections; conduct audience research; draft the information architecture and test with different user groups; and produce a design document that will lay out how the project will proceed in future phases. Hearing the Americas deals with commercial music from the period immediately before the advent of many of the most iconic American genres. By incorporating the most recent humanities scholarship, this project will expose the origins of jazz, blues, and country as deeply transnational. Even audiences who are already familiar with popular music history will gain a new appreciation for the multicultural roots of American music, and of America’s broader cultural history.