New NEH Planning Grant Explores Transnational Roots of American Popular Music

NEH LogoRRCHNM is pleased to announce we received a National Endowment for the Humanities, Digital Projects for the Public, Discovery grant to plan Hearing the Americas, a digital public humanities project that will increase users’ understanding of the transnational roots of American popular music.Working closely with Mason historians Matthew Karush and Michael O’Malley, Sheila Brennan, Megan Brett, and Kim Nguyen of RRCHNM, will use 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 to 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.

The grant funds will allow the team to research the audio and archival collections; conduct audience research; 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.

RRCHNM is grateful to the NEH for its support of humanities work here and around the country.