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Grant will help UK, SBTS preserve sacred songbooks

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LEXINGTON, Ky. (BP) – A grant will allow the University of Kentucky, Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and other educational entities to preserve historic southern sacred songbooks dating back to the middle of the 19th century by digitizing them.

A $346,781 grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities’ Collections and References Resources program will build on a successful one-year HCRR-funded planning project, which started as a pilot project in 2020, consisting of 22 books from four partner institutions. Led by Jesse P. Karlsberg, Sounding Spirit Digital Library project director and editor-in-chief, and Meredith Doster, managing editor and project manager from Emory University’s Center for Digital Scholarship, the team will increase the digital library’s holdings to include 1,284 additional hymnals and songbooks from the southern U.S. published between 1850 and 1925.

Along with making sacred American music accessible to the public, the NEH grant will support the research and writing of 425 volume summaries, 100 collection descriptions and 15 bibliographic essays introducing readers to the many works and contributions of the authors.

Besides UK, SBTS and Emory University, other participants led by the Sounding Spirit Digital Library team include Middle Tennessee State University, the University of Michigan and the University of Tulsa.

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In the funding announcement, NEH acting chairman Adam Wolfson described the grant recipients as embodying “excellence, intellectual rigor and a dedication to the pursuit of knowledge, even as our nation and the humanities community continue to face the challenges of the pandemic.”

Expanding on the pilot digital library, UK musicology doctoral candidate Erin Fulton worked with Revell Carr, director of UK’s John Jacob Niles Center for American Music, to select 169 hymnals and sacred songbooks to be digitized as part of the project. In 2020, Fulton, in preparation for the next phase of the Sounding Spirit project, directed the compilation of the “Checklist of Southern Sacred Music Imprints, 1850-1925,” which assembled bibliographic data that will enhance the team’s ability to research multiple facets of American sacred songbook publishing.

“This is a classic example of a great digital humanities project because it makes our collections of sacred hymnals and songbooks accessible to researchers within academia, as well as independent scholars and the public,” Carr said. “For scholars in fields across the arts and humanities – music, religion, ethnic and racial studies, popular culture, American history, publishing history – this material has much to tell us about the American experience in the 19th century.”

The project is expected to get underway at UK in the late fall or early winter.