About the Project

“Sounding Spirit: Scholarly Editions from the Southern Sacred Music Diaspora, 1851–1911” will make available in open access digital editions and companion print editions currently inaccessible books of highly significant religious music in the United States from an era of dramatic change in American religion, music, and culture that has previously escaped scholarly editing and critical scrutiny. These widely influential texts representing popular religious music genres will be edited, richly annotated with text and multimedia, paired with in-depth critical introductions, and published in state-of-the-art, open access, digital scholarly editions and hardcover print editions.

The “Sounding Spirit” project focuses on sacred music before and after the turn of the twentieth century because this body of material is key to understanding intersections of race, religion, region, and music in the United States at a time of dramatic demographic and cultural change. Expressive of broad social politics, sacred music was wracked by the era’s debates over genre, notation system, and the place and purposes of music in worship and public life. “Sounding Spirit” delves closely into songbooks containing the music of Native Americans, European Americans, and African Americans and explores the diverse and changing music genres, bibliographic forms, and notation systems then in use. Texts will include words-only hymnals such as Nakcokv Esyvhiketv: Muskokee Hymns (1851), spirituals collections such as Jubilee Songs (1872), gospel songbooks such as Class, Choir, and Congregation (1888) and Soul Echoes, No. 2 (1909), and shape-note tunebooks such as Original Sacred Harp (1911).

Each of the project’s digital and print scholarly editions will be edited by a volume editor, working under the supervision of an editorial board of leading scholars and the series editor-in-chief, Jesse P. Karlsberg, based at Emory University. The editors’ work will be supported by project management and technical support staff that Karlsberg will lead at Emory University’s Emory Center for Digital Scholarship (ECDS), Pitts Theology Library, and Emory Library and Information Technology Systems (LITS) Software Development Team. The editions will be published, disseminated, and marketed by the University of North Carolina Press.

Companion Digital and Print Editions

“Sounding Spirit” takes advantage of new opportunities for rich textual engagement and research afforded by digital scholarship to build on the formats of prior print-only editions. The digital editions of “Sounding Spirit” will be edited and published using Readux, a groundbreaking platform for reading, annotating, and publishing digitized books online. Developed by Emory University, Readux is unique among platforms for digital scholarly editing and publishing for its ability to pair digitized facsimiles of editions’ pages with searchable and selectable full-text transcriptions encoded according to Text Encoding Initiative (TEI) standards accurately mapped to the corresponding text on the book’s page images as well as select searchable transcriptions of musical characteristics of interest to readers encoded according to Music Encoding Initiative (MEI) standards. Readux accommodates multimedia annotations either tagged to TEI-encoded text, snippets of MEI-encoded music, or page regions featuring illustrations. Readux-generated editions also support additional content, such as critical introductions. Readux is ideally suited to the songbooks featured in this project, in which the visual appearance of the pages is critical to understanding their social context. Readux’s browsing, annotation, and export interface is publicly accessible.

“Sounding Spirit” adopts facsimile as the main viewing experience, taking its cue from the diverse and contextually significant page dimensions, layouts, and designs of the books in the collection. The series draws on Readux’s unique capability to pair digitized page images with their contents transcribed, encoded, and mapped to their locations on the facsimile page. Scholars can search full text and selected musical characteristics of Readux editions and conduct text analysis using Voyant, a popular web-based reading and analysis environment. Volumes will also feature multimedia scholarly annotations visible in the margin and localized to words, notes, or other items on the digitized page. Annotations will detail variations on texts in alternate editions, offer commentary on historical and social context, and display these layers of information in an interactive, mobile-friendly, responsive layout on the web.

“Sounding Spirit” will complement these digital editions with companion print editions including introductory essays, descriptions of methods and the project’s editorial apparatus, and indices. This “Sounding Spirit” format draws on the unique advantages of Readux to make possible a groundbreaking combination of the facsimile edition, the classic critical edition, and the advantages of print, avoiding choices that prior collections have faced due to technological limitations and enabling deeper access to and a wider range of uses of the collection’s texts.

Vernacular Sacred American Music from an Understudied Period

“Sounding Spirit” offers scholars of history, musicology, folklore, regional studies, and religious studies access to key texts. Its emphasis on genre, race, region, and denomination facilitates comparative analysis of primary sources that are largely inaccessible today. Although several existing vernacular American music editions feature volumes published prior to 1850, the sacred music of Americans outside northeastern urban centers from before the Civil War through the early decades of the twentieth century has been neglected.

The emphasis of “Sounding Spirit” on vernacular music complements recent turns in the fields of history, musicology, and religious studies emphasizing the importance of popular activities away from the elite networks at urban centers that have received outsized attention. At the turn of the twentieth century gospel music—a term applied to collections of four part close-harmony settings of often-original hymn texts frequently sung with piano or organ accompaniment—was booming in popularity among African, European, and Native Americans and widely sung in Baptist, Methodist, and Church of God congregations across the United States. Spirituals—an a cappella repertoire of enslaved African Americans with roots in African performance styles and the revival camp meetings of the early nineteenth-century—had become internationally popular as performed by touring ensembles from historically black institutions even as they began to recede from popularity outside rural black churches. Lined-out hymns—ornamented, a cappella melodies sung to memorized tunes from hymnbooks without printed music—were likewise receding in popularity but remained an important part of church music for rural Native American churches in Oklahoma, rural white churches, and black churches across the South and the growing diaspora of the Great Migration. Shape-note music—a sacred music sung in social settings featuring a cappella in four-part harmony using a system in which notes have distinctive shapes corresponding with their place in the musical scale—was likewise losing popularity to new genres of religious music, even as its black and white practitioners began to embrace the style because of its history dating to the late 1700s. Scholars studying these trends in religious music in relation to migration patterns, cultural history, and religious movements will find in “Sounding Spirit” an unprecedented collection of carefully edited key texts making possible new comparative analysis.

Editorial Board

  • Mark Clague, University of Michigan
  • Suzanne Flandreau, Center for Black Music Research, retired
  • M. Patrick Graham, Emory University
  • Sandra Jean Graham, Babson College
  • Andrew Hankinson, University of Oxford
  • Douglas Harrison, Trinity Washington University
  • Stephen Shearon, Middle Tennessee State University
  • Craig Womack, Emory University