In Defense of Music History

Hello everyone!

Sorry for my most recent hiatus, but I’m getting some more ideas for blog posts now, so hopefully I will be able to find some time to write! This semester, I’ve been doing a research project that will hopefully become my Senior Honors Thesis. My research focuses on the role of the American Organ Revival on the building of one particular organ, the newly purchased and placed organ at Messiah. This research project has been a great deal of fun for me, though not without its road blocks. Initially, a project on the history of this organ was presented to me by a professor in my department who is now on a year-long sabbatical in Nepal. I like to tell people that he gave me a research project and then fled the country.

I’ve been talking to a lot of my professors about this project because, until I found an advisor recently, I was unsure of where to go and what to do. So, one day I was talking to one of my professors about this project, and he said that he had one huge issue with it: it wasn’t about history. He clarified, saying that the sources that I used weren’t historians, so the project would never be acceptable. To say that I was frustrated and angry is to say the absolute least. But, now that I have some time removed from this incident, I would like to defend music history.

No, music historians do not have their degrees in history. More often than not, they have their degrees in music. However, what’s to say that that keeps you from being an historian? In history, we say that there are five c’s that are used to think like an historian. These were developed by Thomas Andrews and Flannery Burke in a January 2007 article in the American Historical Societies’s Perspectives on History. You can read the full article here. These five c’s are as follows: change over time, causality, context, complexity, and contingency. These are all pretty self-explanatory, but the article gives a great overview of what each means and how they operate in history. These five ideas are central to the study of history. They frame the way in which history classes are taught and in which students and historians think.

If the five c’s are central to thinking like an historian, how can someone say that music history isn’t history, when it, too, focuses on these five c’s. In music, we constantly talk about how much develops and changes over time, how events that are occurring at the time affect the music of that period and pieces in particular. We also talk a great deal about the context behind every piece and how complex each piece is and how complex the time period in which it was written was so that we can get a grasp of what led to the piece emerging as it did. Finally, we talk about how different pieces of music are contingent on those written before them or being written at the same time. Composers use other composers and other pieces that have been written for inspiration and a basis for their own works. The five c’s frame the way in which music history students are taught and think, we just don’t explicitly state it. As this is the case, how can one ever say that music history isn’t history or that music historians aren’t historians?

Posted in Some Simple Rants On History, The Ways Historians Think

Early England

Hello friends,

So as previously mentioned I am taking an independent study where I am researching the creation of an English Constitution.  I have already written quite a few pages on this subject, and I wanted to share some of it with you.  This particular section covers a large segment of monarchy pre-Magna Carta.  Sorry for the huge endnotes, I don’t know how to shrink them!

After thirty years as Duke of Normandy, William crossed the channel and in 1066 C.E.conquered England, bringing with him experience and ideas on how to rule.[i] To reward his followers, William I gave his followers English lands and created a new ruling class, who at this point acknowledged that it was the king who granted them these privileges. Aside from bringing Norman aristocrats into England, William also brought in a feudal system of ruling England, which set a precedent for ruling the English realm for future monarchs.[ii] After William died from war wounds, his son Henry I took over. At court, Henry I felt, “confident enough to break some of his greatest baronial families,” and promoted lesser families to power.[iii] Court could either lift or destroy a family, to determine the strength of a house, people only needed to notice Königs Nähe which means to look at which nobles surrounded the king at court. Though Henry was active in war and worked hard to create political stability, “His plans for succession were disregarded immediately. . .” after he died.[iv] Rather than his daughter, Matilda, succeeding her father, Stephen of Blois took the crown, becoming King Stephen I.[v]

The king’s household shows a smaller degree of kingly lordship. Though household contained various offices of honor and some of these roles were more symbolic than practical, the king would also travel with his court of advisors. His household had a payroll, whether it was for the cook or an advisor, it set up an example of government management.[vi] The household followed the king, and involved the court, who would advise the king, to travel with him.[vii] The king’s command over his household, reflects the extent of power that he had in England. The king used his traveling household to visit the far reaches of the kingdom and to ensure they were being governed efficiently, adhering to the law’s wishes.[viii] Essentially, the household provides an example of a smaller governmental unit, managed by the kings administrators, to help the king rule England.

While the king held the prerogatives of land distribution, military conquest, and royal administration, after new generations more distant from England conquest rose, unlike their grandfathers, nobles began to identify less with the kings. Rather, they identified with their land, seeing it not as a gift from the king, but as a given right. In fact, eventually after a tradition of violence between nobles the “tradition of justified aristocratic violence could invest resistance to the king with a kind of acceptability.”[ix] King Stephen’s reign can particularly stand out as a case study of this. In 1136, Baldwin de Redvers led a rebellion against King Stephen. Though the overarching opinion of the time centered around obeying the king, because of his power, Baldwin did not accept Stephen as his king, so he justified his rebellion as him asserting his rights as a lord of the land.[x]

However, though Stephen was king, Matilda’s son Henry was determined to have his inheritance.   In 1153, Henry “asserted his rights as heir to the throne of England. When Henry II took the crown of England in 1153 and was crowned king the following year.”[xi] Henry II’s Angevin line had no precedent in England, so the Anglo-Norman customs established by William I continued. Following, Henry II came Richard I, otherwise known as Richard the Lionheart, emerged as the new king of England. Though he was an excellent warrior, spending his early reign on the Third Crusade, his impact on the government and constitutionalization of England were minimal.[xii] However, his death meant that his younger brother, John, would become king, which would impact the ways of the monarchy by providing nobles with a path to curb the monarchy’s power and assure their rights as nobles.


[i] Bartlett, Robert. 2000. England under the Norman and Angevin kings, 1075-1225. Oxford [England]: Clarendon Press. 12

[ii] Ibid. 20

[iii] Ibid. 28

[iv] Ibid. 21

[v] Ibid. 21

[vi] Ibid. 131

[vii] Ibid. 136

[viii] Ibid. 143

[ix] Ibid. 61

[x] Ibid. 61

[xi] Ibid. 22

[xii] Ibid. 25″


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Study History At Messiah College

Hello friends,

It has been a looooong time since I have been able to post on here.  I am so thankful to finally have some time to sit down and write.  I have had an incredibly busy start to the semester filled with papers, readings, and tests (oh my).

Anywho, these reasons have inspired this latest post.  As most of you wonderful readers know, I am a senior at Messiah College.  I cannot emphasize how influential the history department has been to me while I am working here.

The start of this semester I have been exploring historiography, study the constitutional history of England, and I took my Praxis exam.  Historiography has layed the base in how I am approaching themese and schools of history.  I have explored historicism vs. presentism, which has been an interesting and something I intend to comment more about later.

In my study of the history of constitutional England, I have read through hundreds of pages already and have written several papers.  My professor regularly challenges me to think deeper and more critically.  I find myself making meaningful contributions to this field of study, with a professor who believes that I can do it.

I also took my Praxis II, to become a history teacher.  These sort of experiences lifted above are not unique to students here at Messiah.  The Messiah History Department spends significant time in helping mold scholars.  They force us to think in new ways, and question preconceived notions that we have held from years before.  I have found myself convinced that there needs to be new ways to explore the past for high school students, and I am excited to see what avenues will go forward as I help students fall in love with the study of the past.  Their ways of helping me rethink the past granted me the ability to use reason in new ways which I am thankful for.  I’m still waiting for my official scores to return, but let’s just say my unofficial scores were very good. 🙂  I know that it is because of what the Messiah College History Department has done for me.


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Onward to 1910

Hi everyone! Sorry for my hiatus, and that of my fellow writers. It’s been a crazy semester thus far, and we’re not even halfway through. We just got back to campus from Fall Break, and I am very excited to announce that I have completed keying and editing the 1900 Harrisburg Census! For those readers who may not know what this means, let’s have a flashback.

Ten months ago, I registered for a class called Digital History. I had no idea what to expect for this class, but I knew that I liked the professor who was teaching it and my friends were taking it (Yes. These are the main considerations students make when registering), so I registered for the class. About eight months ago, the class began and we started what would since become a large part of my life, the City Social project. Through this project, our class was going to key large a part of the 1900 Harrisburg Census. What this means, is that we would go into the Ancestry records for the census and copy what they had into a spreadsheet. From there, you had to look at the original document and enter the data that Ancestry neglected to collect. This included many fields, street address, number of children, employment, and literacy, to name a few. As a part of the class, we had to key 2,000 records, and now, for me, 50,029 records later, I could finally begin editing.

Using the 1895 and 1902 Boyd City Directories, I was able to search through the thousands of people in Harrisburg to find citizens and check the work that both Ancestry and the original census workers provided. This proved to be essential, particularly for the next step, GIS, which, thankfully, is someone else’s responsibility. Through searching, I can determine if the name of the citizen is correct, as well as their address and employment, but most importantly, the directory tells me whether the person lived on the north or south section of a street. Though it might seem inconsequential, this ends up being a large factor in the GIS process. So, now, eight months later, I have finally finished this exhausting process. Now, we, the Digital Harrisburg team, have information that is extremely helpful to the success of this project. We will be presenting our information at Bucknell’s upcoming Digital Conference, as well as running a conference for local high school students in the upcoming months.

So, now that I’m finished with this project, it looks like we’re moving on to 1910 Harrisburg!

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Liberty and Union, Now and Forever, One and Inseparable

These immortal words from Daniel Webster emerged during America’s Antebellum period. This statement has been one of the most striking that I have heard while studying American history. In fact, I have a poster of these words hanging in my dorm room here at Messiah, but I’ve never fully known the back story to this powerful statement. In a speech given to Congress during what has come to be known as the Webster-Hayne Debate, Webster and Robert Hayne were discussing the future of the land acquired through the Louisiana Purchase. This debate, in particular, focused on whether or not slavery would be allowed in the West. Robert Hayne, a Senator from South Carolina and a firm believer in states’ rights, in a step towards unifying the South and the West, took the stance that this decision should be left up to the states themselves; that the federal government should not be making this decision for the states. Hayne puts forth the idea that states should have more power than the federal government, which is an idea at the heart of the Civil War.

At this point, Daniel Webster, a Senator from Massachusetts and well-known orator, steps up and states that the North has always supported the West, and shifts the debate to a broader one between states’ rights and the federal government. Webster introduces the idea that the only interest the South had in the West was for economic gain, thus their assertion that slavery should be allowed in the West. Through this, Webster is able to twist the debate into one on the idea of the role of the federal government. Hayne then took over and reasserted his idea that the states should have the right to make their own decisions, even if it means defying an act of Congress, a blatant threat against his own fellow Congressmen.

After a break of a few days, Webster returned to the debate with his now famous “Second Reply to Hayne.” You can read the full speech here. Webster, effectively ending the debate, states that the nation is not made up of sovereign states, but a “popular government erected by the people; those who administer it responsible to the people; and itself capable of being amended and modified, just as the people may choose it should be.” Webster is showing Hayne that the people chose to be a part of this government, and as a true Democratic government, the people do have the power, not the states. Closing out the speech, Webster utters those words that students following the war had to memorize and continue to strike many today: “Liberty and union, now and forever, one and inseparable.”

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Harrisburg on My Mind

Today through my internship/fellowship with Messiah’s Center for Public Humanities, I was given a tour of Harrisburg by a true, born and raised, Harrisburger (yes, that is the official title). I tend to pride myself in my knowledge of Harrisburg history, learned through a course I took last semester and my continual research into all things Harrisburg. However, hearing about Harrisburg from someone who has been living in and around the city since the 1950’s was an entirely new experience for me and I learned a new perspective on Harrisburg’s rich history, that of an African American woman. This woman has a truly incredible story and she was more than willing to share what life was like growing up in Harrisburg, and the vast differences that exist between that time and our present age. Even in the course of 60 years, the city has changed a great deal, and from what I know of Harrisburg in 1900, it is remarkable how much has changed in the 100 year time period.

1900 Harrisburg was not a particularly nice place to live. It did not have the violence that we know today, but it was described by its citizens as being ugly. This is what led to the City Beautiful Movement, which did a great deal in trying to beautify the city, however, the citizens who began this movement lost their interest in the city, grew frustrated with each other and the politics of the movement, and abandoned either the movement or the movement and the city itself. Despite this, citizens were drawn together and a true sense of community began in Harrisburg. In the 1950’s and 60’s, Harrisburg was a sprawling city, people were involved in their community, and despite the separation between races and classes, the people loved the city. There were, and still are, four divisions in the city: uptown, downtown, the hill, and the west shore. The woman who gave the tour said that the lines between races were very distinct. You knew that once you crossed the bridge and entered downtown Harrisburg, blacks were safe. If you were black and walking through the west shore, you knew that you were not welcome and people would stare at you. She even noted that to this day, she does not feel comfortable anywhere near west shore. On the hill, blacks and whites lived together, but only if you had money. Throughout the city, people were either divided by race or class. Maybe this is what created a sense of community, within your race and your class.

She also noted that the city has truly gone downhill in the years that have passed. We traveled through several of the projects, and even these government-issued houses were run-down and not something that you wanted to look at, let alone travel past. Other places throughout the city, places that were once prosperous are now closed, run-down, or nonexistent. The city truly has fallen and it needs help in being picked back up. Though I have never been one to “feel called” to do anything, throughout the tour, I truly felt that I need to do what I can to help the city. That begins this semester.

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Why I Study History

This semester, I have the privilege of studying under some of the best professors I’ve ever had. Last night, in my first class of Civil War America, I had a professor who managed to keep me engaged in his lecture for three hours. No offense to any professors out there, but that is quite the feat, especially considering the time of the class (6-9 at night) when I’d rather be anywhere but in class. I was sitting, quite literally, on the edge of my seat for three hours listening to this man lecture on the Civil War with such excitement that one rarely sees in your average General Education course. This professor had incredibly profound things to say, both about the field of history and the Civil War.

We began class discussing why studying history is important and why it is so much more than dates on a timeline. My professor brought a quote to our attention from Simon Schama’s Dead Certainties about historians and the nature of studying history. “We are doomed to be forever hailing someone who has just gone around the corner and out of earshot.” I had never truly thought of history in this way, but now I realize that it is an excellent way of explaining this field. We can study, research, spend years in the archives, and still never be able to produce a perfectly accurate history. This is simultaneously the most beautiful and frustrating aspect of history. We can never reach that person who has just gone around the corner. It leaves us with many questions that will never be answered and a great deal of room for our personal interpretation.

We then moved on to why we study history. As a junior history major, I’ve spent a great deal of time considering this. What is it about history that captivates me? I’ve read books and taken classes on this topic, and yet, I can never find an answer that fully satisfies. My professor put it perfectly when he said that we study history to understand the range of human existence. History is not dates on a timeline. It is the connective tissue between those dates, and, as historians, we have the opportunity to choose what we do with that connective tissue – how we look at it, what story we tell. History is not something that is perfect. There will always be mistakes, and that is what is truly beautiful about history. The imperfections of history are what make it an art, not a science. History allows us to be able to see our imperfections, both in the work we do and in the lives we lead. Studying history allows us to become better. That’s why I study history.

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History of Africa

We’re back to school here at Messiah and it’s been an interest first day of classes. This semester I’m taking a class about the history of Africa taught by a man who grew up in Ethiopia. I’m sure it’ll be an incredible experience, since today alone he brought up an important question that I haven’t stopped thinking about since class ended. Why is so little known about African history in the America? A few ideas were presented in class, including the physical distance between the two, and the role of the media, who only seem to write about Africa when there’s something terrible happening. I think this role of the media is a huge aspect of our lack of knowledge. This tends to force Americans into a mindset of “Africa is backwards.” This in turn leads to the idea that Africa is less worthy of being studied. And then you enter the downhill slope of never caring about the history of this continent that is the second largest in both size and population. Personally, until now, what I’ve learned about African history has come from a class I took second semester that was a general education course on non-Western countries. Even in high school or grade school, the focus was on Western countries with the occasional exception of China.

With that in mind, I was considering this question and how China seems to be the exception to the Western-focused history education. The first conclusion I draw is that China is now an economic power, putting it on par with nations we tend to be more comfortable with. As such, we feel the need to learn the history of this rising nation.

More than anything, I feel honored to attend a school where a professor can ask a question that keeps me thinking throughout the day when I have many others things to do. I can tell that it’s going to be a good semester.

Posted in Some Simple Rants On History

Agency: Thoughts from Christopher Clark’s “The Sleepwalkers”

This summer I have been working my way through Christopher Clark’s The Sleepwalkers. Professor of modern European history at the University of Cambridge, Clark engages readers on the events leading to World War I. He skillfully approaches this complex period of time in a pseudo-geographical pattern, bouncing from ethnic group to ethnic group, relying on a cacophony of imperial politicking to chart his course. I do not intend to review Professor Clark’s book, but rather use his thesis to grapple with the nuances of historical agency and their implications for historical actors, and by extension, current historians.

If you take Clark’s title literally you might be misled. Sleepwalkers skews one’s thinking to accept WWI as a consequence of mindless, calculated wandering and, perhaps, the inability of key figures to make decisions. That inability to make decisions, of course, raises the question of agency. Entertaining the thought that the principal decision makers at the onset of the war just happened upon it is playing with fire, not to mention bad history. Taking that stance is, in a sense, eliminating the agency of those decision makers. One does not simply stumble into the greatest crisis of the twentieth century by chance. Indeed, even if one determines that the key figures’ inability or refusal to act led to war, one still concedes that those figures acted. Choosing to do “nothing” requires just as much agency as choosing to do “something.” Agency is not dependent on a specific action, but rather the ability to choose a course of action. “[Asking ‘why’] brings a certain analytical clarity,” writes Clark, “but it also has a distorting effect, because it creates the illusion of a steadily building causal pressure; the factors pile up on top of each other pushing down on the events… political actors become mere executors of forces long established and beyond their control,” (Clark 2104, xxvii).

That is the most popular “cause” of World War I in a nutshell – that myriad outside factors grew to a fever pitch, giving European leaders no choice but to go to war. Paired with the overstated importance of the murders of Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife Sophie in Sarajevo, the cause of WWI becomes a deer-in-the-headlights affair. Certain parties are withheld the ability act, freezing them in time as events unfold around them. Others, conversely, are given too much responsibility, thrown head-first into the fray, barely able to tread water. When all is said and done, you are left with a shaky understanding of a great event that lacks any real substance.

The difficulty is walking the fine line between a historical figure’s actual agency and the agency historians choose to apply. Of course historians can never know the actual amount of agency a historical figure had. On the other hand, historians can control the amount of agency they choose to give. The hard part is figuring out what the proper amount is. Too much or too little agency leaves you with a situation like that discussed in Clark’s book.

Consider the role of Gavrilo Princip and the infamous Black Hand in the murders of the Archduke and Archduchess. The common narrative features a brash, almost gallant Princip complete a harrowing assassination on the orders of the mysterious Black Hand. Nothing more than a rag-tag group of regicides and naive college students, the Black Hand fails to live up to the romantic role it is given. Granted, the Black Hand did have a hand (ha!) in orchestrating the assassination in Sarajevo, but it was hardly an overpowering anarchist group. In other words, the Black Hand has been given a great deal more agency than necessary. Gavrilo Princip is cast from the same mold. One must realize that Princip was actually fifth in a line of assassins tasked with murdering the Archduke. That fact alone depletes some of Princip’s status, not to mention the fact that while he did ultimately achieve his goal, Princip botched the job. He was supposed to throw a bomb at the Archduke’s car, then swallow cyanide powder to remove himself form the equation entirely. Princip did kill the Archduke, but he was ultimately captured. I do not want to take Princip’s agency away completely because he did have the wherewithal to complete the job. However, Princip is not the polarizing figure common knowledge makes him out to be. He most certainly possesses agency and exercised it greatly, but it has been misplaced.

When all is said and done, I do not know if there is an answer to the agency question. Every historical actor most certainly possesses a great deal of agency that must be recognized by historians. Where and how that agency is placed, however, is up for debate. Giving too much agency is dangerous, but so is giving too little. That leaves a gaping void in the historical conversation, that there may not be a concrete answer for, but one that must be wrestled with all the same.

Clark, Christopher. The Sleepwlkers: How Europe Went to War in 14. New York: Harper Collins, 2012.


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Professor Binns

For those of you who are familiar with the novel series, Harry Potter, you’ll need no explanation about the title of this post, but for others, let’s talk Harry Potter for a minute. Throughout the Harry Potter series, you meet many teachers who are the stereotypes of the educational system. There’s the brooding Professor Severus Snape who teaches potions (and is my personal favorite character). Professor Snape is the stereotypical “bad guy” teacher. He yells at his students and is willing to give out detentions for any reason, including breathing at inappropriate times. That’s a bit of an exaggeration, but you understand my point. Then there’s Professor Minerva McGonagall who teaches transfiguration. She’s a no-nonsense lady who is fiercely protective of her students but is not willing to let infractions go unnoticed. Professor Sybil Trelawney teaches divination and is your typical “crazy” teacher. She spews out prophecies that are ridiculous and you can frequently find her getting lost in gazing into a crystal ball.

Finally, we come to Professor Binns. Cuthbert Binns teaches History of Magic, and he is the stereotypical history teacher. J.K. Rowling, the author of the series, goes so far as to make him a ghost. There are rumors throughout the school that the man is so oblivious and dull that he did not even notice when he had died. He simply rose from his chair and went into his classroom. The students in the books say that the most exciting part of his class is when he enters the classroom through the chalkboard. From there he proceeds to lecture them with facts, spew out dates for them to memorize, and his students are too afraid to stop his lectures to ask questions. Most students fall asleep during his class, and it is clear throughout the books that this is because he is not captivating his audience with the history he has before him (which includes the history of Merlin, so it’s not as if he doesn’t have an exciting history to tell). Students make it clear that they would rather be down in the dungeons with Professor Snape yelling at them than in the history classroom.

As a student of history, I take great issue with this image of history being presented in as popular a piece of fiction as the Harry Potter series has become. In the books, even the smartest, most devoted student finds herself completely bored throughout this class period. There is a huge problem here. Some kids will read these books and truly believe that the history class here represents all history classes; the teacher, all history teachers. This can only grow the dislike people feel towards history. There needs to be a major attitude change towards history classes. The students that I know who are studying history education have great ideas about changing the study of history and making students love history, but that needs to be the attitude of all future history teachers if we are going to have an impact on this field. There needs to be an end to the Professor Binns teaching style.

Posted in Some Simple Rants On History, Teaching History

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