What Would Beethoven Google? Primary Sources in the Twenty-First Century Classroom

April 11, 2016


Scholars rely on primary sources as the foundation of credible research. Sometimes, however, the incorporation of primary sources as fodder for learning in the undergraduate music classroom is overlooked, and instructors miss the opportunity to share with their students the excitement that accompanies viewing an original manuscript, reading a long-gone composer’s words, or making connections between images, culture, and resultant artistic creations. Other fields, such as history, English, and general education, have long embraced the use of primary sources in the classroom, and books, articles, and websites on the topic abound. Printed material on the specific use of primary sources in the academic music curricula of institutions of higher education is more scarce. This lacuna was an impetus for the creation of this article, which examines musical primary sources both in traditional forms and in newer manifestations. This second category is important, for modern technology is changing the methods through which musicians create music and hone their craft. In addition, technology has changed the way many students approach the research process. College students often limit themselves to online resources when approaching a research topic. While the amount of good material available via the internet, both in primary and secondary source formats, increases exponentially each year, students need to learn how to discern best practices for selecting appropriate source material, how to evaluate authors and sponsors of information, how to use source material in effective ways once found, and how to determine when relying solely on the internet is simply not enough.

Accessing Traditional Primary Sources Online

Traditional primary sources in music research include scores (in autograph manuscript and copyist versions and first and sometimes later printed editions, especially when published and revised during the composer’s life), treatises, early books and anthologies, sketchbooks, letters, concert reviews, financial records, artwork, and historical news reports, among others. In the past, there were obstacles to using such items within the classroom setting or for research projects, most prominently travel distances required to access original source material. Even when home campus libraries held significant items in special collections and archives, inability to read multiple languages, fragility and value of older items, and challenges associated with designing projects for large undergraduate classes created impediments. Yet, the ever-increasing access to primary source materials through digital archives is changing the landscape for manageable exploration of musical treasures. Web-based translation tools may aid students in understanding. In a recent publication on undergraduate learning and archives, editors argue that the advent of the internet has not made archives and special collections obsolete, but has “whetted” the appetites of undergraduates as material has been made available online. 1

As teachers, we can help students navigate the online research environment by incorporating traditional primary sources into our curriculum via online avenues. Open portal websites such as Internet Archive allow access to historical printed documents and audio and visual files in multiple formats. The Archive states its mission is to offer “permanent access for researchers, historians, scholars, people with disabilities, and the general public to historical collections that exist in digital format.” 2 When looking for primary source material on this website, by limiting search functions, one can choose media format type or specify date ranges of creation. A student might search for a specific musician and then, using a “Read Online” function, actually “flip” through the pages of a historical treatise related to his or her subject, allowing access to authentic images of texts. The student can then move on to listen to audio files of various performances of the music in question.

Archives such as the Beethoven-Haus in Bonn and libraries such as the Bibliothéque Nationale de France, the British Library, and the Library of Congress provide access to digital facsimiles of early manuscripts, historical recordings, letters, and photographs in collections that previously were viewable only in person. These national libraries, along with several noted university, private, and public libraries, archives, and museums, have joined together to create the Music Treasures Consortium, allowing public access to selected digital items in their respective collections through a single entry point hosted by the Library of Congress.3 To offer up combined access to bibliographic information on important artifacts, as well as links to digital versions of primary sources is invaluable to music students, instructors, and professional researchers. Unfortunately, to date there are not many mega-search tools comparable to the Music Treasures Consortium that allow researchers to find specific sources in a single index. The arduous task of searching each individual portal remains. Many experienced professors of music history and bibliography courses already maintain their own lists of digital archives and library sites, but instructors who are new to classroom teaching and those who are assigned unfamiliar courses to complete their loads may be pleased to find sites such as Harvard University’s Online Resources for Music Scholars, an extensive list of links to a wide variety of collections and databases.

A now-decade old article by Bill Tally and Lauren Goldenberg in the Journal of Research on Technology in Education, lists five specific tasks that students can do to enhance learning through the use of primary source documents. These include closely observing original source documents, applying previously gained knowledge to new observations, making logical deductions as to cause and effect, finding connections to personal experience, and using gained evidence to support new arguments.4 Though written for a wider audience and specifically intended for teachers of secondary school students, all of these items can and should be applied to musical topics at higher levels of education, as well. The first (observation) allows students to put artifacts in context. Students must ascertain, if possible, the author, date of creation, intended audience, purpose, and significance of any given primary source.5 Once a student is thoroughly familiar with an artifact, he or she can frame new perspectives on old items, hopefully enhancing critical thinking and inspiring original research project topics. An example of a music student’s use of Tally and Goldenberg’s sequence might proceed as follows:

A student looks at a set of manuscript partbooks from the late sixteenth century and makes four observations: 1. each singer has his or her own part; 2. the books are bound similarly; 3. each volume is small enough for easy portability; and 4. several pieces at the end of each volume seem to have been copied in a different hand than that used at the beginning of each partbook. (Closely observing original source documents)

Several pieces like those in the partbooks are included in the student’s course anthology, but in modern notation and in modern score form. The student is comfortable reading the modern edition, but feels uncomfortable interpreting the white note notation, even though his or her instructor had shown an example in class. Also in class, the student had already learned that secular music of the time was often used for domestic music-making or in courtly circles as a social activity. The book size speaks to the ability to transport and share volumes within social circles. Yet, similar bindings may indicate that these books belong together, within the same collection. The student deduces that the different hand in which pieces are written at the end of each volume may indicate that at some point ownership changed, and that the new owner felt that additional pieces were important to preserve. (Applying previously gained knowledge to new observations and making logical deductions as to cause and effect)

An undergraduate vocalist today might shudder at the thought of singing an ensemble piece without simultaneously being able to follow the other voice parts. Conversely, wind and string instrumentalists are accustomed to reading from their own parts while playing with others. Looking at the individual volumes brings home the point that a singer would need to be able to read music well enough to trust his or her own rhythmic and pitch-reading acumen, and that listening was essential to maintaining group musical integrity, just as it is in the twenty-first century. (Finding connections to personal experience)

The student argues that the addition of new pieces at the volume end likely means that the added pieces were chronologically more recent than those at the beginning of the book and that the practice of group social singing encouraged the preservation and transmission of songs shared within a given community. Further, within circles who sang together, members must have received some type of musical training to support the activity. (Using gained evidence to support new arguments). This kind of argument may not be novel to early music scholars, but is new to the student first encountering renaissance music. The self-discovery and relation to the student’s own musical experience makes the historical context more relevant. This scenario is just one example of how a prescribed template of artifact examination-discovery-understanding-ownership might be applied to any given topic within a music classroom, in project form. Of course, viewing the original artifacts themselves is preferred, but a good color digital scan from cover to cover with an interpolated ruler to judge size may provide most of the same information.

Certainly access to older items will require new skills of our students, but ultimately opens up more possibilities for learning. For example, sites such as the Digital Image Archive of Medieval Manuscripts (DIAMM) provide anyone with an internet connection the ability to view facsimiles of early music.6 The site includes electronic images of over 14,000 manuscript pages, mainly from the medieval and renaissance time periods, and bibliographic information on even more manuscripts that do not yet have links to images. Yet, even though access to DIAMM’s images is easy and interesting on the surface, the average undergraduate music major may not have the training to read a score copied in black or white note notation (a course often reserved for graduate school musicologists and theorists). If simply viewing the score is the destination, pedagogical implications are limited. However, if students are instructed in the basics of notational transcription as part of an undergraduate music history course, think of the possibilities! After completing an exercise like the Tally and Goldenberg example described above, students could transcribe pieces to better understand historical compositional practice and early counterpoint, perhaps culminating in an innovative student performance that provides an interactive connection to how musicians and composers approached reading music in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. Such an exercise ultimately leads to a better understanding of Renaissance performance practice, including opportunities for discussion of the addition of musica ficta, assessing points of dynamic and tempo changes, the implication of phrasing when bar lines are not inserted, and even the use of signs of congruence for coordination of sectional practice. Source material for this type of project is digitally abundant and could be done outside of class as homework or within the “flipped” classroom setting.

Of course, every instance of viewing primary source material online needs to be accompanied by the reminder that there is much more material out there that is not accessible via the internet, and that there is no substitute for the excitement of viewing an original, hopefully providing the nudge for students to move beyond the computer screen to experience the rewards associated with handling a physical object. A clear example of how far technology has come in the last twenty years and how it has changed our processes is found in a 1995 statement on the value of preserving primary sources by G. Thomas Tanselle. Tanselle wrote, “All scholars should welcome the day when they can sit in their studies and call up on their terminals an enormous array of texts without the cumbersome process of interlibrary loan or the xerographic copies.” 7 That day is here. However, it is important to note that Tanselle had the foresight to follow the statement with a caution that there is no substitute for viewing an original, “however inconvenient it may happen to be.”

Contemporary Primary Sources

While many traditional types of primary sources are still being created today and can be used as source material for projects on contemporary musicians, some formats for primary sources are changing dramatically. (See Figure 1.) Publishers are moving toward e-versions of books and periodicals. Handwritten letters have given way to e-mail, instant messages, and cell phone texts. Photographs are printed less often and are offered up digitally via websites and social media. Composers are creating scores with notational software like Finale and Sibelius, obscuring the compositional process and making engraving plates obsolete. Sarah Adams, in an Grove Music Online article, states: “The landscape of archival research is evolving as resources become more widely available online; however, preserving the past in the digital era poses significant challenges due to rapid changes in technology. Furthermore, the methodologies of archival research will continue to change as digital-born materials replace paper-based materials.” 8

FIGURE 1. Traditional vs. Contemporary Primary Sources

Score technology is a prime example of how the creation of future primary sources is changing. Large established music publishing houses still print, market, and distribute music by contemporary composers, but technological innovations of the late twentieth century have allowed the creation of more smaller publishing companies as many composers have moved toward self-publishing.9 The advent of the internet age, coupled with the desire for self-control of distribution and retention of profits, only fueled this movement. The convenience and availability of personal copiers and printers and universal portable document format (.pdf), followed by personal viewing on tablet screens, removed barriers that formerly created a need for third party distribution.

The greatest perceivable difference in modern scoring from historical processes evolved from the creation of notational software. Notation systems allow composers to create, revise, and save composition attempts at their own discretion. A composer can begin with a motive, change his or her mind, and overwrite the original, leaving behind little of what came first. While some may argue that you can never completely “overwrite” any digital data, fewer and fewer traces of the compositional process of modern composers will be left behind if artists do not consciously and consistently save each revised copy of a new work. Both of the two most popular notational software systems create backup files each time a file is saved. However, one developer added a feature in their later releases in which revisions are saved within the same file, effectively allowing a composer to archive multiple versions of any given project with the ability to compare versions.10 This type of feature could be extremely helpful to future researchers. Think how much less we would know about Beethoven’s painstaking perfectionism if each item in his sketchbooks had been magically wiped away with a click of “Delete” and a “Secure Empty Trash,” leaving us only with the final product. Of course, Beethoven could have, and did, use a more traditional method of “trashing” early attempts, but those that survived remained in a form still completely accessible to us today. In Beethoven’s case, someone recognized the value of preservation of his sketches, and for that we are much richer today. We have benefited because Beethoven’s sketches were in a format (on paper) that is still easily accessible. The digital archives of the Beethoven-Haus in Bonn use modern technology to make it easier for the public to view these documents.11 Students can view manuscript scores and note Beethoven’s unique method of indicating dynamics and articulation, allowing for judgments related to interpretation and performance practice. In the same manner, we need to consciously attempt to filter, organize, and preserve what items produced now may be of value in the future. The difficulty comes in determining what is “save-worthy” and what will be of interest to researchers not yet born.

As newer formats and technologies appear, our current ones will become obsolete and less accessible. For example, it takes special equipment to listen to early recordings that have not yet — and may never be — digitized. The means are available, but the effort is significant. Further, there may be recorded items that become endangered, lost, or damaged before they are designated for transfer to a newer medium. Even with our ability to restore lost data, the sheer volume of the exponentially increasing data stored daily on servers and on portable media devices makes the task of accessing specific files increasingly difficult, especially as newer formats appear, unless they are organized in clearly defined indexes that are accessible to researchers at large. Many universities host digital repositories that allow scholars and students to store works in many forms, including text, audio, and video formats, in an effort to protect and preserve contemporary work. The advantages of such systems are that hosting institutions often have the resources to convert old formats to newer ones, utilize multiple servers for ongoing backup, and are often open access. While paper may have proven its lifespan is much longer than an average hard-drive, the lifespan of current audio and video formats is still an unknown. Yet, the creation of so much material in so many formats leaves unanswered questions. In a 2003 journal article Roy Rosenzweig shrewdly noted that “historians need to be thinking simultaneously about how to research, write, and teach in a world of unheard-of historical abundance and how to avoid a future of record scarcity.” 12

New information methods may seem to lack the substance of older ones. There is no shortage of debate on the merits and value of academic publishing versus self-publishing, especially among tenure-track circles. Multiple books, articles, and essays have appeared addressing the subject, such as Andrew Keen’s The Cult of the Amateur: How the Internet is Killing Culture.13 That short e-mails and social media bites are replacing lengthy handwritten letters as source material may seem logically to be a downward trend. However, technological innovation is a reality. As T. Mills Kelly so concisely puts it, “we ignore the revolution going on all around us at our peril.”14 But before we totally discard the value of new methods of communication, one valuable exercise for classroom integration might be to imagine what some iconic historical musical treasures might have looked like if they were created today. If Mozart had resorted to e-mail, texting, and social media posts to stay in contact with his family, would the residual evidence have been of less value than the wonderfully creative words found in his letters? Perhaps short statements without his colorful descriptions would make them less interesting, but what if the textual content was essentially the same? In some ways, the ability to add images and sound files might have enhanced the communicative experience for his family members and friends.

Likewise, would eighteenth century music writer Charles Burney’s reports of his travels throughout France and Italy have lacked credibility if they were published as weblogs?15 Once again, it may be that only the presentation would change, and perhaps for the better. Imagine how much richer Burney’s original text might be if accompanied by images of the people he encountered and the places he visited. (See Figure 2.)

FIGURE 2. Charles Burney Blog

Figure 3-4

Undergraduate students can internalize musical information by using primary source evidence from previous time periods and, without changing the text, reformatting the presentation into more modern designs. In this way a link is created to performers and composers of the past in a way that is both understandable and relevant in contemporary terms.

The academic world is slowly coming to the realization that new forms of media are being used in modern scholarship, as evidenced by the Modern Language Association’s 2012 release, “How to cite a Tweet.” The event was so noteworthy as to be featured in a March 2, 2012 Atlantic Monthly article.16 The MLA’s explanation brings up new issues related to proper documentation of newer media forms when it states:

The date and time of a message on Twitter reflect the reader's time zone. Readers in different time zones see different times and, possibly, dates on the same tweet. The date and time that were in effect for the writer of the tweet when it was transmitted are normally not known. Thus, the date and time displayed on Twitter are only approximate guides to the timing of a tweet. However, they allow a researcher to precisely compare the timing of tweets as long as the tweets are all read in a single time zone.17

The official format for tweet citing, as prescribed by the MLA is as follows: Last Name, First Name (TwitterName). “Tweet Title/Text” Date, Time. Tweet.18 The Chicago of Manual of Style followed closely thereafter by adding the topic to its own website’s “Question and Answer” section, advising the writer to simply acknowledge the source in text: “In a Twitter post on ...,” but also offers a possible footnote format.19 By contrast, the APA’s official stance is “Because posts from online social media, such as Twitter and Facebook, are not yet often fodder for scholarly research, specific reference examples aren’t included in the Publication Manual. However, some examples can be found in the Social Media section of the APA Style Blog.”20 That the issue must be addressed at all points to changes in research in certain circles. Perhaps social media as a secondary source should not be granted acceptance as good research, but when writing on contemporary topics, they can (and do) act as primary sources — primary sources that our students encounter on a daily basis.

In 2010, the Library of Congress entered an agreement with Twitter to begin archiving tweets. Though access to the collection is not yet available, the archive is viewed as something that will be of value to future researchers. In justifying the collection’s existence, a Library of Congress report stated that it is “in keeping with part of [the library’s] mission to acquire, preserve and provide access to a universal collection of knowledge and the record of America’s creativity for Congress and the American people.”21 While reaction may be mixed as to the long-term usefulness of this particular collection, just the fact that a national library is willing to give credibility to the value of social media is eye opening. Nonetheless, the ability to create these new forms of information by anyone with the desire to set up an account renders questions of value of content and methods of filtering creations of lasting worth. Does a blog have less value than a letter? Time does not change the fact that value has many determinants and quality can be found in many forms. Even internet browser history lists inherently hold interest. If we could access his hard drive, would it not be intriguing to know, “what would Beethoven google?”

New media requires both scholars and students to scrutinize source quality in greater depth than ever before. When the world wide web first acquired household status, some teachers required research papers that used a specific number of sources, with a maximum limit to the number of them obtained from the internet. Determining credible sources that are part of today’s digital landscape is much more complex. Many journals have moved to online formats and libraries and archives are creating digital repositories of primary source materials, thereby making items that were previously unobtainable without travelling long distances available in our schools, offices, and homes. Items that fall into this category are just the types of sources that make student research more interesting and valuable. In many cases, this can make the research process easier, faster, and more comprehensive. However, it is this ease that creates inherent danger for those discerning what makes a credible source. Helping students clearly define “primary sources” and how to use them is key.

Practical Classroom Integration

In addition to using technology to find, view and incorporate primary sources, evaluating secondary sources for content quality is a vital part of the digital research equation. As previously mentioned, Rosenzwig commented on the overabundance of historical data available through digital means.22 Mills Kelly argues that even when guiding twenty-first century students to evaluate the author of items they find on the web or to stick to approved databases and legacy institutions, they do not do it. If the site looks professional, it is often seen as “good enough.” He lists four major student “lessons” for consideration by today’s teachers as: “Google makes college easy,” “If it’s not digital it doesn’t exist,” “If it looks reasonable, it’s probably fine,” and “All content online is fair game.”23 In light of these alleged student assumptions, it is the music professor’s duty to hold students accountable for their choices as to what information is credible and to urge them, through annotated bibliographies or other formats, to justify their choices for source material.

The task ultimately comes down to critical thinking. Teachers can use items circulating in social media as a portal to highlight the need for research, to validate found material, and to promote discernment and critical thinking in a way that relates directly to the current student population. Often timely quotes quickly become viral in social networks in the form of shared posts and memes. Sometimes they are correctly attributed, and sometimes they are not. What an opportunity to explore topics more deeply! For example, there is a popular saying that reappears regularly on social media, one that is often attributed to Theodor Geisel, also known as Dr. Seuss. It reads:

We’re all a little weird. And life is weird. And when we find someone whose weirdness is compatible with ours, we join up with them and fall into mutual weirdness and call it love.

In actuality, this quote was written in a slightly different form by philosopher and essayist Robert Fulghum and is found in his 1997 book True Love. The original reads: “You want my opinion? We’re all a little weird. And life is a little weird. And when we find someone whose weirdness is compatible with ours, we join up with them and fall into mutually satisfying weirdness — and call it love — true love.”24

Using examples of misquotes might be especially memorable or insightful, but even properly attributed items offer a portal for inquisitive learning. For instance, in Spring 2013, when tragedy struck at the Boston Marathon, the following quote quickly became a favorite “share” on a popular social media site:

This will be our reply to violence: to make music more intensely, more beautifully, more devotedly than ever before. - Leonard Bernstein

It takes no more than a basic search to find that Bernstein did indeed initiate the saying, that it was made in a speech at Madison Square Garden in New York in 1963 to benefit United Jewish Appeal, and that in the speech he references both Mahler and Beethoven. The context becomes even more relevant when one discovers that the speech was intended as a tribute to the memory of John F. Kennedy, spoken just days after the former President was assassinated. The quote is found within its original context in the 1982 book Findings.25 Students who make the effort to locate the entire Bernstein book will find a treasure trove of the conductor’s writings, providing greater insight into his philosophies of music and life. What a wonderful way to introduce deeper discussion on a great American composer/conductor or on musical responses to tragedy, while gently reminding students to double check factuality before blindly transmitting information. As an extension, the topic leads naturally to a deeper discussion of primary sources, for while Bernstein’s book is a source itself, undergraduates may be interested to learn that there is a substantial Leonard Bernstein collection housed at the Library of Congress (LOC) that contains scores, correspondence, business papers, and other items. With permission, a researcher could look more deeply at the context of the Bernstein speech and his relationship to advocacy groups within the part of the collection that archives Bernstein’s business with United Jewish Appeal or could even view a photo from the event in the LOC’s photograph division.26 Social media can be an impetus for intellectual curiosity if approached in such a way.

Guiding undergraduate students to pick quality sources, both primary and secondary, is always a concern and determining authenticity of primary sources offered up digitally presents new challenges. Just as critical consideration of the quality of secondary sources should be regularly addressed in the classroom (who wrote the article or book? what are his/her qualifications? are citations readily available to provide a chain of evidence? was the material reviewed by experts in an established process?), assessment of primary sources obtained on the internet requires similar methods of inquiry. Is the website or portal maintained by a reputable government or educational agency? If not, is the website owned by an organization or person with identifiable biases or agendas?27 Are permissions listed for display of items not owned by the website’s sponsor? Are photos and recordings accompanied by bibliographic information identifying where originals are located? Wikipedia, the online encyclopedia that is used regularly by students, is frowned upon by many instructors due to the anonymity of article authorships and its status as a general tertiary entity. The website also has a disturbing policy on primary sources, one that may support avoidance of its use as a research vehicle. Wikipedia’s policy states that content should be verifiable, defined as “material that has been published by reliable sources.”28 While this criteria is similar to what we ask our students to do in their projects, it means that the encyclopedia’s content is intended to be based only upon secondary sources. In an environment where instructors are promoting the use of primary sources to encourage original work and creative thinking, the use of a website opposed to primary sources as foundation is counterproductive! Yet, Wikipedia pages regularly contain links to photographs, recordings, and other files that are reproductions of primary sources. All are part of Wikimedia Commons and are listed as either being in public domain or as being offered under a Creative Commons License. However, bibliographic information linked to such items varies widely and confirmation of public domain status may be questionable at times. If students obtain primary source material from a source such as this, it is imperative that they cross-check other sources to make sure that the material presented is authentic and as represented, a task that ultimately negates the time-saving excuse that Wikipedia is the source that is most convenient.

Easy access to primary sources via the internet also brings up questions of copyright and permissions. Students need to understand that if they plan to make their own primary source based projects available online (in essence presenting borrowed material to a broader audience), that they need to check the policies of host institutions to determine if permissions are needed, especially in the case of use of material still under copyright. “Fair use” is a related issue, and students and instructors interested in better understanding what material can be shared without permission for limited, non-commercial purposes can stay abreast of recent fair use cases in the U.S. Copyright Office’s Fair Use Index.29

Issues of non- English primary sources remain, regardless of whether items are viewed live or accessed online. Online translators, however, provide a readily accessible tool for researchers even when they are not familiar with the language in which a source is originally presented. Caution is noted, however, as translations provided by online translators are quite often clumsy, and a significant amount of effort may be required to transcribe original text if it is viewed in photographic form. A good translated edition of a source is a better option for a researcher, but such online tools do allow one to get a general sense of content. Yet, even without translation, many musical primary sources hold great value. Musical scores from the common practice period onward can be accessed and used by any trained musician. Earlier scores provide information to those who understand the notation. Treatises in other languages can be studied for organization, musical examples, and physical quality and characteristics. When done in tandem with a modern edition or translation, close study of primary sources may lead students to a new understanding of items from the past.30


As new generations of students spend more time using modern technologies (whatever they may be) and less time accessing old ones, it is important that instructors try to bridge gaps in learning and private environments, for the technologies of today are creating the primary sources of tomorrow. In the future, a researcher gathering information on a musician of the early twenty-first century will likely search archives of digital photographs, performer web site history pages, e-mail records (if there is access), digital sound recordings, online reviews and articles, and perhaps the subject’s own blog in whatever format these items are retained. As many musicians now create and manage their own websites, such items are already available in many cases. Of course, because many individual and organizational sites are entrepreneurial tools, placing them in context with discernment of purpose and intended audience is essential. Are new formats inherently less useful than traditional sources? There is no reason that there is less value to be seen in contemporary creations than the ones we have come to know and use regularly. The same underlying issues of determining quality will continue in the future, albeit in judging yet-to-be media versus those of the twenty-first century. It remains important to expose our students to traditional methods of research and standard, accepted forms of primary sources, as well as to encourage them to experience the excitement of viewing original documents, but it is equally important to recognize that we have moved into a new digital age. When it comes to primary sources of the future, the challenge may be not ask “what will be,” but to ascertain “what can be.”


Selected list of organizations with digital archives that include musical primary sources:

Beethoven-Haus Bonn
British Library
Julliard Manuscripts
Library of Congress Historical Collections
Library of Congress Historical Collections
The Morgan Library & Museum
National Archives
National Library of France (Gallica)
National Library of Spain
New York Public Library
State Library of Berlin
University of California (Calisphere)
Virtual Manuscript Library of Switzerland (e-codices)

Portals for primary source access online

Digital Image Archive of Medieval Music
Contains a database of bibliographic information on thousands of manuscripts (mostly medieval and renaissance) many of which have links to images.

IMSLP/Petrucci Music Library
IMSLP now includes many first editions and some manuscripts available for download. For instance, nearly 50 of the first editions of Pierre Attaignant are available in facsimile. Multiple manuscript facsimiles of Bach’s works, such as the Cello Suites have been uploaded. However, since the site is a wiki that allows uploads from any provider, discretion is urged for secondary sources and modern editions found, as quality may vary.

Internet Archive
Digital portal to video, audio, and textual items, including primary sources and secondary sources. The “Read Online” function, if available, allows readers to flip through pages of facsimiles.

Online Resource Guide for Music Scholars, Harvard University
Portal to a plethora of outside organizations, many of which feature primary sources. Categorized by subject.

Selected websites that provide ideas for specific use of primary sources

Using Primary Sources on the Web American Library Association
Provides a guide for evaluating websites, creators, and content

Primary Source Village University of Illinois Libraries
Module 1 provides a definition for primary sources and shows examples of interdisciplinary primary sources. Module 3 provides evaluative methods of studying primary sources.


Adams, Sarah. Archives and Manuscripts. In Grove Music Online, Oxford University Press.
American Psychological Association. How Do You Cite Twitter?APA Style.
Bernstein, Leonard. Leonard Bernstein Collection, circa 1900-1994. Library of Congress.
Bernstein, Leonard. Findings. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1982.
Brügger, Niels. “When the Present Web is Later the Past: Web Historiography, Digital History, and Internet Studies.” Historical Social Research 37, no. 4 (2012): 102-17.
Burney, Charles. Dr. Burney’s Musical Tours in Europe. Edited by Percy A. Scholes. London: Oxford University Press, 1959.
Cohen, Daniel J., Michael Frisch, Patrick Gallagher, Steven Mintz, Kristen Sword, Amy Murrell Taylor, William G. Thomas III, and William J. Turkel. “Interchange: The Promise of Digital History.” The Journal of American History 95, no. 2 (2008): 452-91.
Digital ArchivesBeethoven-Haus Bonn.
Digital Image Archive of Medieval Manuscripts.
Fulghum, Robert. True Love. New York: Harper Collins Publishers, 1997.
Galgano, Michael J., J. Chris Arndt, and Raymond M. Hyser, eds. Doing History: Research and Writing in the Digital Age, 2nd ed. Boston: Wadsworth, Cengage Learning, 2013.
J.W. Pepper Announces New Distribution Service for Composers and Self-Pubishers [sic]. JW Pepper. August 30, 2012.
Keen, Andrew. The Cult of the Amateur: How the Internet is Killing Culture. New York: Doubleday, 2007.
Library of Congress Twitter Report January 2013.
Madrigal, Alexis C. How Do You Cite a Tweet in an Academic Paper?The Atlantic (March 2, 2012).
Mitchell, Eleanor, Peggy Seiden, and Suzy Taraba, eds. Past or Portal? Enhancing Undergraduate Learning through Special Collections and Archives. Chicago: Association of College & Research Libraries, 2012.
Modern Language Association. How Do I Cite a Tweet? Accessed 26 October 2013.
Osterberg, Gayle and Erin Allen. Update on the Twitter Archive at the Library of Congress. Library of Congress. January 4, 2013.
Raymond, Matt. How Tweet It Is!: Library Acquires Entire Twitter ArchiveLibrary of Congress. April 14, 2012.
Rosenzweig, Roy. “Scarcity or Abundance? Preserving the Past in a Digital Era.” American Historical Review 108, no. 3 (June 2003): 735-62.
Saffle, Michael. “Self-Publishing and Musicology: Historical Perspectives, Problems, and Possibilities.” Notes 66, no. 4 (2010): 726-38.
Schwarzenegger, Christian. “Exploring Digital Yesterdays — Reflections on New Media and Communication History.” Historical Social Research 37, no. 4 (2012): 118-33.
Sibelius First and Sibelius 7 ComparisonSibelius. Accessed February 25, 2014.
Tally, Bill, and Lauren B. Goldenberg. “Fostering Historical Thinking With Digitized Primary Sources.” Journal of Research on Technology in Education (2005): 1-21.
Tanselle, G. Thomas. “Significance of Primary Records: Introduction.” In Profession 95. New York: Modern Language Association, 1995.
University of Chicago Publishing. Q&A: DocumentationChicago Manual of Style Online.


1Mitchell, Seiden, and Taraba, Past or Portal?, ix.
2The Internet Archive.
3Mentioned in Adams, Archives and Manuscripts.
4Tally and Goldenberg, “Fostering Historical Thinking,” 1.
5These items are standard in many interdisciplinary guides to using primary source. One especially good guide for those new to using primary sources is Galgano, Arndt, and Hyser, Doing History. See especially Chapter 4, 58–84.
6Digital Image Archive of Medieval Manuscripts.
7Tanselle, “Significance of Primary Records,” 31. Short case studies in this journal volume provide clear examples of how original artifacts can influence students. I thank Dr. Carlo Caballero of the University of Colorado at Boulder for introducing this essay to me.
8Adams, "Archives and Manuscripts."
9While there is much written about how to self-publish, I had difficulty locating specific statistics on self-publishing by composers. In a contemporary trend, some commercial music publishers such as J.W. Pepper are now offering “distribution services,” apparently in an attempt to reconnect with composers who have a bent toward self-control. J.W. Pepper Announces.
10Sibelius First.
11To view the collection’s digital archives, which includes sketches, scores, and other documents, go to Beethoven-Haus Bonn.
12Rosenzweig, “Scarcity or Abundance?” 738. (Italics are mine). Rosenzweig addresses some of the same types of issues with digital technology considered in this present essay, but directs them at historians outside the musical field. He also presents a good overview of preservation issues of the past. The above quote is also found in reduced form in Kelly, Teaching History, 27 n3. Other fairly current interdisciplinary views on the future of primary sources and the implications of digitization can be found in Schwarzenegger, “Exploring Digital Yesterdays,” 118–33; Brügger, “When the Present Web is Later the Past,” 102–17; and Cohen et al., “Interchange,” 452–91.
13Keen, The Cult of the Amateur. See also Saffle, “Self-Publishing and Musicology,” 726–38.
14Kelly, Teaching History, 6.
15Burney’s journal entries from his early European travels are found in manuscript form in the British Library, Add. 35122. They subsequently were published in The Present State of Music in France and Italy, or the Journal of a Tour through those Countries, undertaken to collect Materials for a General History of Music (London: 1771 and 1773). Later Burney produced The Present State of Music in Germany, the Netherlands, and the United Provinces, or the Journal of a Tour through these Countries, undertaken to collect Materials for a General History of Music (London: 1773 and 1775). Combined modern edition: Burney, Dr. Burney’s Musical Tours. Burney’s The General History of Music from the Earliest Ages to the Present Period, to which is prefixed, a Dissertation on the Music of the Ancients was issued in London in four volumes from 1776 to 1789.
16Madrigal, How Do You Cite a Tweet?.
17Modern Language Association, How Do I Cite a Tweet?.
19Q&A: Documentation, Chicago Manual of Style Online . The footnote format is as follows: #. Firstname Lastname, Twitter post, Date, time, http://twitter.com/twittername.
20American Psychological Association, How Do You Cite Twitter?.
21Library of Congress,Twitter Report. See also the following LOC blog posts: Osterberg and Allen, Update on the Twitter Archive. and Raymond, How Tweet It Is!. This project seems to have stalled, at least temporarily, as the last public updates are from 2013.
22Rosenzweig, “Scarcity or Abundance?,” 738. Cited in Kelly, Teaching History, 27 n3.
23Kelly, Teaching History, 29–31. For a fascinating case study of presentation obscuring bias, see also 34–46.
24/a>Fulghum, True Love, 98.
25Bernstein, Findings, 216–8.
26“United Jewish Appeal,” Box 1019, Business Papers, 1944–1994; “United Jewish Appeal ‘Night of Stars’ Memorial Tribute to JFK,” 63A/079, Photographs, 1915–1993. The collection’s catalog can be accessed at the Bernstein Collection.
27For a fascinating case study of presentation obscuring bias, see Kelly, Teaching History, 34–46.
28Help: Introduction to Policies and Guidelines, Wikipedia
29U.S. Copyright Office Fair Use Index, United States Copyright Office.
30For examples of graduate student informational descriptions of archival materials and photos of musical artifacts see Colorado State University’s Monfort-Runyan Collection.

4904 Last modified on July 11, 2023