Exploring ethnography and digital visualisation: a study of musical practice through the contextualisation of music related projects from the Seán Ó Riada Collection

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Egan, Patrick
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University College Cork
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This thesis explores how cultural data of musical practice is contextualised during the process of digital visualisation and ethnographic research. The investigation utilises a two-pronged approach to examine music related projects from an archive, the Seán Ó Riada Collection, and focuses on how mid-twentieth century Irish artist Seán Ó Riada rose to prominence. Humanities scholars and digital humanists are increasingly engaged with digital technology in their work. Although ethnography and digital visualisation have often been used in research, both processes are beginning to be used in tandem. This project makes an original contribution to the scholarly literature through interrogations of how a hybrid of concepts and methodologies drawn from digital humanities and ethnomusicology may work in tandem or may be complementary. Practice theory is advanced as a suitable methodology for historical analysis, facilitating an investigation of musical practice in order to reveal evidence of change or continuity during the development of Seán Ó Riada’s career. Analysis of music related documents discovered within the Collection is framed by the circumstances through which projects were rehearsed and presented to audiences in a number of different mediums. I argue that the development of digital datasets and iterations of visualisation enable more informed questions and suitable theories to emerge when engaging with the contents of archival collections. I also argue that as a result of this activity, the selection process for suitable methodology and theory (such as event-based research) are important considerations when attempting to combine the practices of ethnography and digital humanities. This thesis also examines the complexities that emerge with exploring musical practice with digital cultural data, arguing for deeper engagement with data and digital tools in the structures where they are recombined and represented. Digital practices are perceived as challenging, informative and evolving processes of engagement. The debate concerning the use of more elaborate systems of classification for the representation of cultural data is not solved, instead it is utilised constructively and considered as part of an ongoing, self-reflexive process of research that enables knowledge discovery. In addition, this study introduces a series of semi-structured interviews that were carried out in order to assess the accounts of performance related activities, related by contemporaries and critics of Seán Ó Riada. The ethnographic section of this thesis demonstrates how ethnomusicology contributes to an improved interpretation and understanding of digital data. This study contributes to the ongoing discussion about digital humanities activities in ethnomusicology and ethnomusicology in digital humanities. It demonstrates the use of novel digital processes alongside long-form ethnographic fieldwork to contextualise historic materials in archive collections.
Ethnomusicology , Ethnography , Qualitative , Quantitative , Digital humanities , Digital visualisation , Digital visualisation framework , Iterative design , Data driven design , Digital cultural data , Reflexive research
Egan, P. 2019. Exploring ethnography and digital visualisation: a study of musical practice through the contextualisation of music related projects from the Seán Ó Riada Collection. PhD Thesis, University College Cork.
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