Self-Publishing and Musicology: Historical Perspectives, Problems, and Possibilities

By Saffle, Michael | Notes, June 2010 | Go to article overview
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Self-Publishing and Musicology: Historical Perspectives, Problems, and Possibilities


Saffle, Michael, Notes


ABSTRACT

Although the terms "publishing" and "self-publishing" have meant quite different things at various times and to various individuals, publishers today decide which documents will be produced and for what purposes. This article examines the evolution of self-publishing past and present, especially (but not exclusively) insofar as musicology is concerned. Important self-publications discussed or at least mentioned are John Milton's Areopagitica; editions of music by Telemann, C. P. E. Bach, and Muzio Clementi; some of the books and magazines written and sold by Upton Sinclair; the samizdat of 1960s and 1970s Soviet dissidents; Richard Wagner's autobiography Mein Leben and Mary Burrell's unfinished documentary Wagner biography; fanzines of various kinds; and the celebrated Anthology of American Folk Music, for which editor Harry Smith compiled an influential set of homemade program notes. Since the 1960s the rise of desktop publishing, new forms of digital word-formatting and -retrieval systems, and the Internet have challenged musicologists and other scholars to think outside the box of traditional, hard-copy, peer-reviewed monographs; in a few cases, online periodicals and other kinds of publications have begun to be accepted. One example of recent self-publishing is Anthony Linick's biography of his stepfather, composer Ingolf Dahl, also reviewed separately in this issue of Notes. Whatever the problems associated with it, virtual publishing offers libraries as well as scholars and their audiences a variety of new opportunities.

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Since the invention of movable type more than five hundred years ago, the terms "publishing" and "self-publishing" have meant quite different things at various times and to various individuals. Although publishers--once known as "congers," "stationers," or "undertakers"--have existed for centuries, publishing as an activity has never been altogether synonymous with duplicating and distributing the written word. In seventeenth-century England, for example, the Stationers' Company contained a few individuals "who did not actually practice any of the skills associated with paper and printing" (1); instead, some of them collected licensing fees. Another definition involves the transmission of facts and attitudes as well as the duplication of texts: publishing is "the making of information and ideas public and the arts, craft, and technologies involved therein." (2) This applies, whether the technologies involved are virtual or real. In the last analysis, however, publishing is about judgment. Publishers are "the person or persons ultimately responsible for deciding that a document will be produced and for what purpose." (3) It is almost entirely for this reason that self-publishing remains a dubious scholarly activity.

Can musicologists be their own publishers? Have they been? Should they be? The present article examines the evolution of self-publishing especially (but not exclusively) insofar as musical scholarship is concerned. It also evaluates some of the problems involved with musical self-publishing ventures of various kinds, past and present, and it very briefly considers some of the self-publishing possibilities currently available to musicologists.

Although methods of producing and distributing information continue to evolve at breakneck speed, attitudes in musicological circles toward innovative publishing venues remain reactionary, even antiquated. Books, for example, continue to be privileged over periodicals--and this, in spite of the importance of professional journals in many areas of research. Historians of printing sometimes agree. As recently as the 1990s, for example, G. P. Landow acknowledged lithography and electronic publishing but ignored the very existence of newspapers and magazines. (4) In another, somewhat older but even broader-based and more authoritative publishing history--and one that discusses engraving, modern offset printing, and linotype equipment as well as lithography--Douglas McMurtrie describes the "processes of bookmaking" in terms of the casting of metal type, the correction of galley and page proofs, the engraving of title-page designs, and "casing-in" or binding individual volumes in signatures.

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