Writing a Big Data history of music - British Library Research Repository
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Journal article

Writing a Big Data history of music

3 September 2015


This article introduces the project A Big Data History of Music, which set out to unlock the bibliographical data held by research libraries in order to create new research opportunities for musicologists. The project cleaned and enhanced aspects of the British Library catalogues of printed and manuscript music, which are now available as open data. It also experimented with the analysis and visualization of the British Library datasets and the RISM inventories of printed and manuscript music. The article shows how quantitative analysis of these datasets can expose long-term historical trends, such as the rise and fall of music printing in 16th- and 17th-century Europe. Data analysis and visualization also facilitates research on the dissemination and canonization of specific composers (as shown by case-studies on Palestrina and Purcell) and on changing trends in genres, scoring and ethnic colourings in music (as shown by a case-study on ‘Scottish’ music).


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  • Resource type

    Journal article

  • Institution
    • British Library

  • Organisational unit
    • Heritage Made Digital Programme

  • Project name
    • A Big Data History of Music

  • Funder
    • Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC)

  • Funder project reference
    • AH/L010046/1

  • Journal title
    • Early Music

  • Volume
    • 43

  • Issue
    • 4

  • Pagination
    • 649-660

  • Publisher
    • Oxford University Press

  • Place of publication
    • Oxford, UK

  • ISSN
    • 0306-1078

  • eISSN
    • 1741-7260

  • Official URL
  • Related URL
  • Licence
  • Rights statement
  • DOI
    • doi.org/em/cav071

  • Additional information
    • Project datasets can be downloaded fromwww.bl.uk/bibliographic/download.html.