The Music Discussion Network (paper summary)

On March 31, 2012 at Rider University in New Jersey, I presented a paper about the Music Discussion Network (and related issues) at the American Musicological Society’s annual Teaching Music History Day.  On April 21 at Hamilton College in upstate New York, I also presented an updated version of the paper at an AMS chapter meeting.

In the first part of the paper, I discuss the idea of public musicology (open, shared, etc.), my recent return to school to study software development, and my subsequent plan to combine public musicology with web software and web content development.  I include an overview of how the Music Discussion Network is structured to include a wide variety of music, instructional videos, piece recordings, lyrics, reviews, information fields, and areas for members to contribute to discussions of specific topics.  Then, I explain how I go about making the instructional videos (which are on MDN’s YouTube channel) and how things are organized as individual topics pages on MDN itself.  I play excerpts from the instructional videos about Bob Dylan and Chopin and a clip from the music video for Laurie Anderson’s “O Superman.”  In addition, I demonstrate how the dynamic, data-driven nature of MDN makes it easy to find related materials by clicking on links, searching, and browsing.

The second part of the paper covers several, non-music-related inspirations for MDN.  These include the Khan Academy, which provides over 3000 free instructional videos (mainly for high school students) on science, math, history, etc., but now also includes an art-history project (mainly for non-major undergraduates) called Smarthistory.  The Khan Academy’s videos have been viewed more than 130 million times (often as a part of “classroom flipping,” where students study such materials on their own), the system has significant financial support from the Gates Foundation and Google, it has grown to include a series of practice exercises, and it is used by a number of school boards.  Similarly, Stage 2 of MDN will include premium/paid content for university/college contexts, such as example test questions, automated online tests, ideas for essay subjects, and course-specific blogs.  Another inspiration for MDN is George Mason University’s Center for History and New Media, which includes a digital history Ph.D. program, dozens of IT professionals, software tools, and involvement in more than 100 public digital history web projects, with over 13 million users per year.

Then, in the paper’s third and final part, I get into some broader issues and contexts.  For example, in his writings about digital history, CHNM’s director Dan Cohen has broached the issue of the “tribe” (validation, etc.), and I pose some related questions regarding MDN, such as whether I should concern myself with such things as conventional peer review and academic publishing.  I also address musicology’s little-discussed tenure-track (or similar) hiring rate of less than one-third and how the American Musicology Society’s new career-development guide is of almost no use in preparing for a “non-academic” career.  Cohen also discusses the importance of curation and methodology, and I argue that musicology, too, needs to start thinking about those things (for example, to develop a “digital musicology”) and about becoming more public.

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