Last Tuesday CREATE researchers Mascha van Nieuwkerk and Leonor Álvarez Francés attracted quite a crowd with their presentations on program data in the performing arts. In a basement in the PC Hoofthuis, jam-packed with historians, theatre experts, programmers and information specialists, they jointly presented their datasets on concert and theatre programs of the Amsterdamse Schouwburg 1638-1772 and concert hall Felix Meritis 1777-1888. Combining backgrounds in the history of theatre and music with learning-by-doing database construction as well as the broader cultural industries lense, Mascha & Leonor provided many valuable insights, grouped here in three topics:

1. Investing in digitizing cultural repertoires is important. The Schouwburg and Felix Meritis examples neatly illustrate how collecting serial data on programs can help to, for instance, trace the roots of new programming models, shifts in repertoires and geographical or institutional variation.  Leonor demonstrated how quantifying and visualizing patterns in, for instance, the translations of plays triggers all kinds of new questions about the organization of early modern theatre productions and literary publishing. And Mascha explained how her data allows for testing assumptions about the great transformations that took place in nineteenth-century musical culture, such as homogenization of programming, the rise of symphonic music, or professionalization of orchestras (see also William Webber’s The Great Transformation of Musical Taste: Concert Programming from Haydn to Brahms (Cambridge, 2008).

2. Analyzing urban institutions such as the Schouwburg and Felix Meritis is of great value for study of cultural industries. In the act of programming, production, distribution, intermediation, and consumption intersect. These institutions are, therefore, an excellent unit of analysis for studying cultural content in its broader urban context. Programs are about repertoire and reception, as well as processes of mediation. About the interrelations between social networks, economic concerns, and artistic choices in cultural industries. And, about cross-overs between different cultural sectors, such as theatre, art, dance, music, and publishing. They are also interesting from a methodological point of view, since they contain disparate types of data, e.g. biographical, stylistic, and geographical.

3. Constructing a new dataset is not an easy task. As usual, digitizing data comes with challenges and concerns. Leonor and Mascha took us back to fundamental questions and concerns that come up when original (Mascha) or published (Leonor) sources have to be processed into structured data and imported in databases. What to include and what to leave out? How to deal with uncertainty? How detailed should annotation be? Which database model to use? Who will use it and for what purposes? Which data and concepts are already available in other datasets? How can the data best be linked to other datasets such as IMSLP and VIAF?

These and other questions were discussed during the last hour of the Salon, and will undoubtedly also feature in future CREATE Salons, so please join us next time, when we learn more about on historical geodata: Tuesday March 3rd.

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