False Memories and Dissonant Truths: Digital Newspaper Archives as a Catalyst for a New Approach to Music Reception Studies

Christopher Dingle, Laura Hamer

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


    Musicologists primarily use music criticism as the raw material for understanding the reception of works and musicians, or to gain a greater understanding of the cultural contexts of music, its institutions, and audiences. However, the British Music Criticism since 1945 (BritCrit) Project, has thrown up a number of findings which seriously undermine aspects of the accepted historical narrative of post-war music, and open the door to a more nuanced perspective. The BritCrit Project initially aimed to critique the widely-held assumption ? often centred upon anecdotal claims ? that Classical music criticism has declined in both quantity and quality over recent decades, by examining the evolving trends of music criticism in British newspapers since the Second World War. The project had no a priori revisionist agenda; the expectation, if any, was that the findings would confirm the prevailing view of decline. This article first considers some of the myriad methodological challenges encountered when attempting to glean meaningful empirical data for comparing newspaper content across broad timescales. After noting some advantages and pitfalls encountered in working with digital newspaper archives, it outlines the blended methodology, developed during the pilot project, in which qualitative observations were underpinned by quantitative, statistical results. Music criticism from The Times was sampled across 67 years and subjected to qualitative analysis. Qualitative observations where then placed within a framework of quantitative evidence through a database created using metadata from the reviews. Contrary to common perceptions, indications from the pilot project were that British music criticism has seen expansion rather than decline in the period up to 2012. That this trend appears to challenge the prevailing narrative is surprising and the article concludes by considering how interrogating digital archives has acted as a catalyst for an unexpected new approach to reception studies in music, and the resultant opportunities and challenges.
    Original languageEnglish
    JournalProceedings of the Digital Humanities Congress 2012. Studies in the Digital Humanities.
    Publication statusPublished (VoR) - 28 Feb 2014


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