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The Open Musicology Educational Resource

The challenge musicologists currently face is that the “one size fits all” materials used to teach music history to undergraduates have failed to keep pace with the scholarly and pedagogical developments of our field. We intend to create a peer-reviewed, open-source, online, modular music “textbook” that better serves the needs of musicologists at liberal arts colleges–an environment where critical engagement with musical subjects as well as our critical consideration of them is imperatively important.

We will create a collection of “chapters” on a range of topics that:

  1. Are written at a level appropriate for undergraduate students (ACM students would take part in the review process for these “chapters”);
  2. Reflects up-to-date scholarship in these fields of inquiry; and
  3. Would provide faculty the flexibility to design courses around selected “chapters.”

Our Open Musicology Educational Resource could ultimately supplant more traditional course materials such as textbooks and anthologies. By bridging scholarship and pedagogy, this project facilitates and encourages further communication among an active community of scholars committed to reforming academic music studies and developing new forms of pedagogy. Ultimately, our focus on accessibility and digital media has the potential to sew powerful seeds of change within music history pedagogy even outside of the liberal arts environment.

Note: Content adapted from project proposal.

A growing chasm has emerged between music-history curricula and musicological scholarship. As a matter of economy, a majority of pedagogical texts are designed to satisfy curricular needs at large schools of music. They adopt a “one size fits all” approach to music history. These texts do not account for and too often actively resist changing intellectual and pedagogical trends. In particular, they limit flexibility and fail to promote critical thinking, open up interdisciplinary considerations, or engage in the ideological tensions and historiographic/methodological issues central to a liberal arts education.

Inversely, musicological scholarship actively embraces new critical inquiry, but all too often is written at a level inaccessible to undergraduates. The purposes of this project, therefore, are a) to create a collection of texts that are freely available to all faculty and students at liberal arts colleges and that are written specifically for undergraduates, thus marrying pedagogical needs with up-to-date scholarship; b) to provide faculty and students with alternatives to more conservative, limited, fixed, and expensive textbooks; and c) to offer a forum for faculty whose work addresses recent trends in the field to present their work to students and instructors. No such text exists in the field of musicology. (Online resources in related disciplines like music theory have already proven their worth, but are not generally relevant in music history contexts.) Upon the successful achievement of its goals, the Open Musicology Educational Resource will contribute powerfully to reforming music history pedagogy across the country.

Unlike a textbook by a single author (or governed by a single publisher), the success of this resource depends on an ongoing dialogue among editors and organizers, authors, teachers, and students (who will both be taught by these texts and brought in as editors). Initially, faculty and students at our and other ACM institutions will fill these roles. With the flexibility of an online format made up of modular chapters/units written by multiple authors specifically invested in liberal arts education, we are better able to respond to recent scholarship quickly, to change or edit existing texts, and to make adjustments based on feedback from teachers and students.

Every chapter that is published will require regular conversations within the editorial board (made up of music faculty) about what gaps need filling, what new directions to follow, and how our underlying pedagogical philosophy can respond and improve. Because instructors will be able to compile their own collection of chapters that best serve their curricular purposes, it becomes easier for them to try out new ideas (by adding or substituting a chapter on a less familiar topic) without having to change textbooks or throw out existing syllabi. Unusually, this model encourages pedagogical exploration, not only with respect to content and methods, but with respective to collaboration and regular feedback among a community of scholars.


Faculty at all ACM schools are expected to be effective and innovative teachers while also actively maintaining our independent scholarly or creative agenda. Participation in this project presents musicologists, in particular, with the opportunity to open up conversations with likeminded colleagues on different campuses about curricula and pedagogies but also to consider the broader relevance and impact of our scholarly work. If we publish a chapter on a given topic, we would be required to imagine its connections to other chapters and theoretical/methodological issues but also to consider its epistemological implications.

In other words, we would be compelled to answer the question we so often put to our students: so what? No longer is our audience or readership limited to a collection of like-minded scholars. Instead this form of public musicology requires us to question perpetually our own disciplinary foundations/formations and our positions as producers of knowledge by having to explain and even justify ourselves to our colleagues and our students. In short, the continued involvement with this project should serve to fertilize, improve, and synthesize both our teaching and professional development.


At the outset of our activities, the primary goal of the project team is an intensive, two-day workshop in Chicago to establish our core organizational structure. This meeting would include drafting a guiding philosophy, assigning official roles, devising an editorial system, sketching an outline of the first 15-20 texts (which includes recruiting potential authors), and preparing a framework for expansion and promotion. Additionally, we will use this workshop to explore the logistical challenges of publishing our collection while also investigating the novel opportunities an online format might provide. We may also begin to develop an e-textbook proposal that we could submit to an openaccess, born-digital publisher like Lever Press.

Once we have established our initial collection of chapters several months later, members of the group will begin recruiting instructors and students to test the chapters and provide feedback. Whether we disseminate the Open Musicology Educational Resource through Lever Press or in some other way, a second phase of this project will focus on promoting our chapters and their underlying pedagogical method through blog posts, conference presentations, and journal articles.

By the end of this process (the summer of 2017) we expect to have an active website that we, the members of the group, would use in our own classes and that other faculty in the ACM and around the country could use as well. Furthermore we will have a process set in place to continue to expand the website (through the addition of chapters or through collaboration with a press) and improve our editorial process. Our initial goal is to offer two or three historiographic or theoretical chapters that introduce students to the kinds of big and critical questions, tensions, and polemics they will (and should) encounter within the discipline.

Additionally we will offer around fifteen other chapters that encompass a range of topics, musicians, communities, musical genres, styles, geographic regions, historical moments, interdisciplinary approaches, and so forth. In order to ensure utility and applicability from the beginning, we will write or solicit chapters that would cohere within a single-semester, fifteenweek course (roughly one chapter per week). After we develop our first set of chapters we can begin the conversation about expansion and, once tested, see which direction we want to go.

As we have indicated in our tentative schedule of activities below, the majority of our activities will take place in the 2016-2017 academic year although the primary goals are to create our resource, pave the way for future growth, and begin to expand.

  • August/September 2016: Workshop in Chicago
  • January 2017: “Soft” launch of online website (with one or two test chapters)
  • September 2016-May 2017: Solicitation, editing, and completion of 15 initial chapters
  • May 2017: Public launch of website
  • June 2017: Presentation on website at Teaching Music History Conference
  • August 2017: Blog post on American Musicological Society’s “Musicology Now” website
  • October 2017: Presentation on website at College Music Society national conference
  • November 2017: Presentation on website at American Musicological Society national conference

There is no end date as we intend to grow this collection of chapters over time.

Dissemination Strategies

The resulting online texts that would emerge from this collaboration would be available to anyone, most likely free of charge. The texts would be housed on either a free server or a server at one of our institutions, leaving us with negligible long term costs. Thus these texts could be used by anyone teaching music history at any level. Once we have created a foundational series of texts, we will begin reaching out to other educators and promoting our website through the College Music Society and the American Musicological Society’s Music History Pedagogy Study group, the “Musicology Now” website, and organizations that support those who teach musicology at the university level at a range of institutions. Finally, we intend to host a webinar within the ACM to promote, explain, and discuss our new website within the consortium’s musicological community.

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