This Sounding Spirit pilot digital library features songbooks and hymnals published across the southern United States from 1850 to 1925. Spanning holdings from four partner archives, the digital library’s twenty-two books include words-only hymnals, gospel songbooks, spiritual collections, and shape-note tunebooks, demonstrating the wide variety of form, content, and presentation in southern vernacular sacred songbooks. These songbooks employ competing notation systems and vary in musical style from dispersed harmony fuging tunes and plain tunes of the shape-note repertoire, to antiphonal gospel, to classically inspired arrangements of African American spirituals, to words-only hymns in Muskokee sung in unison, to tunes in oral tradition shared among southern black and white congregations.
Organized into collections that highlight texts’ associated places, populations, genres, and denominational affiliations, the digital library allows for rich engagement with songbooks and hymnals seminal in their respective eras, but historically underrepresented in both archival holdings and scholarship. These works and collections illustrate the primacy of songbooks to the dynamic encounters among white, black, and native communities navigating modernizing forces across the US South and beyond.
In selecting volumes for the pilot site, Sounding Spirit’s music bibliographer Erin Fulton, project director, Jesse P. Karlsberg, and project manager, Meredith Doster, collaborated with content consultants at each partner archive to balance the diversity of this 22-volume corpus with each collection’s strengths. Additional criteria guiding the selection included contemporaneous significance, influence, rarity, and existence of digitized copies or available facsimiles.
The Sounding Spirit digital library supports browsing, annotating, and publishing with these sacred songbooks in the Readux platform. Browse featured songbooks from the site’s home page; navigate to the “volumes” page to peruse all texts by title, author, or date published; or visit the “collections” page to browse songbooks associated with places, languages, populations, genres, or denominations.
When viewing a songbook, you can page through the book and zoom in to see details. A “more info” button brings up a songbook’s history and content, and additional information about the work.
Log in to the Sounding Spirit digital library by creating an account with your Facebook, GitHub, Google, or Twitter credentials to annotate songbooks. You can select text on a page to annotate, or select a region of a page to comment on music, illustrations, or other features.
You can export your annotated songbooks as freestanding websites or download them to preserve for later.
The Emory Center for Digital Scholarship (ECDS) collaborated on this pilot library with four archives with outstanding collections of historical songbooks:
Digitization specialists at each partner archive joined Sounding Spirit team members in formulating and implementing digitization and preservation standards. These standards were modeled on best practices and adapted to the varied equipment and workflows at each institution, the specific features of historical songbooks, and the forms of engagement enabled by this digital library.
Our digitization specifications include:
These digitization standards draw on the Federal Agencies Digital Guidelines Initiative (FADGI), with allowances made for individual archives’ equipment on hand. We prioritized creating accurate images useful to singers and scholars, well-suited to Readux’s deep zoom feature, and capable of supporting annotations of text derived from optical character recognition (OCR) results. Each institution digitized their included songbooks in house.
After digitization, images were prepared for the Sounding Spirit digital library by conducting post-processing according to a workflow developed by ECDS and partner archives aimed at maximizing images’ accuracy and reliability. University of Kentucky staff conducted post-processing for volumes they digitized. Sounding Spirit staff at ECDS conducted post-processing of volumes from the other three institutions. Sounding Spirit team members also conducted a study of the accuracy of leading OCR engines in recognizing the text in historical songbooks, disambiguating text from music, and accurately interpreting page layouts. This research informed the OCR performed on all volumes. Each institution followed its own preservation and access policies to ensure long-term preservation of digital files in addition to access through Sounding Spirit.
The Sounding Spirit team and partner archives are at work on the next phase of this project, planning to digitize hundreds of volumes identified in conjunction with the production of this pilot library. This next phase will feature books enumerated in the “Checklist of Southern Sacred Music Imprints, 1850–1925,” compiled under the direction of music bibliographer Erin Fulton, that distilled Sounding Spirit’s priorities around race, place, religion, period, cultural impact, vernacularity, and accessibility into a tiered search process. In compiling a checklist to direct the digital library’s expansion, the partner archives' collections served as the starting point, supplemented by other resources when this permitted a richer representation of the racial, geographical, and religious diversity of southern sacred music.
In addition to expanding the library, the team plans to incorporate lesson plans and teaching materials for a variety of learning levels, scholarly essays, and data visualizations about the site’s songbooks into the expanded Sounding Spirit digital library site. Until then, the Sounding Spirit team is excited to make these first collections of volumes accessible for research, teaching, and discovery.
Sounding Spirit is grateful to the National Endowment of the Humanities, which supported the production of this pilot digital library through a Foundations grant from the Humanities Collections and Reference Resources program.
Sounding Spirit thanks all members of the ECDS Readux project team for their support launching the digital library site, including: Jay Varner, Yang Li, Joanna Mundy, Ben Brumfield, and Sara Brumfield. We also thank ECDS co-directors Allen Tullos and Wayne H. Morse, for their support of the Sounding Spirit initiative, alongside the center’s staff, especially Chase Lovellette, Kayla Shipp, and Rob O’Reilly. We thank Debra Madera of Pitts Theology Library for her assistance with the Emory volumes included in the digital library. We thank Courtney Chartier at Emory’s Stuart A. Rose Manuscript, Archives, and Rare Book Library, and Yolanda Cooper, Lars Meyer, Melanie Kowalski, and Jen Doty at Emory Libraries, for their contributions to the planning and production of this site.
Digitization was performed with the following equipment: Epson Expression 11000XL scanner (CPM), i2S CopiBook scanner (UK), Epson CanoScan 8800F (SBTS), Phase One 645DF camera (Rose Library, Emory; Nakcokv Esyvhiketv), Atiz BookDrive with Canon Rebel EOS cameras (Pitts Library, Emory; remaining volumes).
Quality assurance and post-processing was conducted using: i2S Image Enhancement Software and FastStone Image Viewer (UK), Image Science Associates GoldenThread, Adobe Bridge, Adobe Camera Raw, Adobe Photoshop, and ImageMagick (Emory).
OCR, OCR assessment, digital library ingest was performed with: Google Cloud Vision and the ocrevalUAtion tool.