Blogging American Music History Assignment Prompt


  1. Practice locating and analyzing primary source materials;
  2. Apply what you’re learning in class readings, listening, and discussion to new texts and contexts;
  3. Synthesize and distill complex ideas in stylish, accessible prose;
  4. Develop website-building skills and experiment with creating an online persona.


Each week, you will browse, search, and otherwise make your way through a particular primary source collection located on campus or online. Your goal is to locate one or two “texts” (which could mean recordings, images, videos, physical objects, articles, letters, really anything) that strikes your interest. Ideally, the primary source you choose should be a good candidate for inclusion in our library exhibit. As you explore the collections and search for a text, consider answering one or more of the following questions:

  1. How does this text connect to the reading, listening, and class discussions from the previous week?
  2. Is the text’s author trustworthy? If so, what important information does the text provide? If not, what might the author’s perspective tell us about cultural norms or biases at the time the text was produced?
  3. Does the text reinforce, contradict, or complicate facts and ideas found in the textbook, provided by your professor, or offered by your classmates?
  4. Does the text look/sound/feel distinctive or exceptional in some way? Alternatively, does it seem to represent a much broader constituency? Could it be displayed in our library exhibit as representative of a number of similar primary sources?
  5. Does it make more sense to write about the source individually or to complement/compare it with another source?

The Write-Up:

Once you’ve found a text to write about, you should compose a 250-500 word blog post around it. The post should describe the object (who/what/when/where), analyze it (why, in what context, for what purpose, to whose benefit), and connect it to course materials whenever relevant. Of course, you will likely need to consult secondary sources (books, journal articles, The Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians and its “American” version) to provide context. Don’t be afraid to visit the library, and definitely don’t be afraid to ask me or music librarian extraordinaire Beth Christensen for help.

The purpose of your post is not unlike that of a traditional show-and-tell: to teach others about the object you’ve found and to demonstrate your ability to think critically about the raw materials from which history is made. Feel free to use the first person (after all, this is your blog), and experiment with how to balance conversational prose and academese. Your audience includes your professor, your classmates, and (potentially) interested members of the scholarly and non-scholarly community who see the library exhibit or find this blog through an internet search.

The best posts will present an intriguing primary source from an assigned archival collection; contextualize that source through information found in secondary and tertiary sources; use a blend of text, image, sound, and eye-catching formatting to provide a holistic and engaging experience for readers; and connect the object and its context to class readings, discussions, and topics when relevant.


To create a new post, sign in at, go to, and click the plus sign at the top of the page. Ideally you’ll want to quote from, embed, and/or link to the original text, image, or object in your post: you want your readers to have easy access to it, and the online environment of a blog makes it easy to incorporate words, images, sound, and lots of links to outside resources. Consult the Blogging Style Guide for help on hyperlinking, embedding, and doing other blog-y things.

The Round-up:

The next class day after the day a post is due, two students will give a 10-minute presentation based on their classmates’ blog posts. Presenters should focus on common themes or interesting threads running through a few or all of the posts. Presenters might also point to particular primary sources that would work well in the exhibit we’re planning.  The goal is not to review the content of each and every post, but rather to synthesize and critique the posts as a collection.

Round-up Guidelines:

– Pick some blog posts to show off on the classroom computer (show up 10 minutes early to get this set up)

– Focus on some or all of the following:

– exemplary/outstanding research or writing

– common threads running through multiple posts

– places where authors disagree in interesting ways

– Identify one or a few primary source objects that might work well in the library exhibit.

The Exhibit

As a blogger or as a presenter, whenever you find a document that you think we should show off in our library exhibit, go to our class planning spreadsheet and add it. While it’s fresh in your mind, consider writing a short (3-4 sentence) caption that could appear with the object once it’s printed.

Posting and Round-up Schedule:

You must complete 8 blog posts throughout the semester, although you can write more if you choose. (For instance, you could use your blog as a place to take notes on the listening, or work through questions you have that don’t relate directly to primary source materials.) Your required posts are due before class and will engage with the following collections:

  1. 9/26: American West or American Periodicals or Readers’ Guide Retrospective

Presenter 1: Presenter 2:

  1. 10/3: Library of Congress Prints and Photographs: Lomax Collection and/or National Jukebox

Presenter 1: Presenter 2:   Presenter 3:

  1. 10/10: African American Newspapers; AND Jazz Music Library

Presenter 1: Presenter 2:

  1. 10/17: Popular Culture in Britain and America, 1950-1975 AND Chicago Defender

Presenter 1: Presenter 2: Presenter 3:


  • 10/24: Sheet Music Consortium


Presenter 1: Presenter 2:

  1. 10/31: Vinyl Collection of Halvorson Music Library AND Manitou Messenger

Presenter 1: Presenter 2:

  1. Correspondence from/to Beach, MacDowell, Dvorak, Ives, Copland, Cowell, Thomson, Gershwin, Ellington, or other art music composers held in Halvorson; other primary sources in physical books in Halvorson Music Library (Tick does not count)

Presenter 1: Presenter 2: Presenter 3:

  1. Latin American Experience or March of Time or Afro-Americana Imprints

Presenter 1: Presenter 2: Presenter 3:

Of course, you’re not limited to these collections; you might also find archival materials elsewhere, either through the LibGuide, through the St. Olaf online library catalog, or through targeted internet searches. You should, however, start with the collections indicated, locate your main primary source(s) through those collections, and use any additional collections to provide complementary or contrasting primary sources for discussion.

A Note About Privacy:

Unless you have strong objections, blog posts will be open to the public over the course of the semester and through the end of the library exhibit. If you choose, posts can be made private or deleted after the library exhibit is over.

Exemplary Blogs/Blog Posts on Music

From our own

Will Robin blogs frequently for New Music Box. Here’s a great post on continuities between Yankee tunesmiths, Shape Note singing, and 20th century music.

Sticking with New Music Box, recent Carleton grad (and current Harvard PhD candidate) Caitlin Schmid wrote a post about burning a piano (as part of a performance art piece) at Carleton a few years back.

Unsung Symphonies is a blog a few friends of mine created during grad school to celebrate little-known twentieth-century symphonies.

Dial M for Musicology is one of the best known musicology blogs, although they also tread quite far afield from immediately musical topics.