“Finding Trends in Jazz Terminology”- Reflection & Paper

Digital Project turned Print Project

            All semester I was excited to work on the project I had devised as my Digital Project Proposal. I proposed to digitize the flyer/advertisement section from the Anacostia Community Museum’s “A Right to The City” exhibit to make it accessible to the public and encourage public interpretation. I argued that these documents should be made accessible to the public because it is, in fact, the public’s history; these signs were created and made by the people of DC, for the people of DC. This project would ultimately enhance and add to the Smithsonian’s online collections database. In addition to the digitizing of artifacts and archival accumulation, I proposed that a public dialogue be open to the public to discuss and remember the events that the flyers pictured. This dialogue would be open to the public in the form of a blog, using WordPress. Here, guests would be invited to comment, ask questions, convey memories, and remember the stories behind these flyers. This blog would, thus, create a data resource for the public.

However, my hopeful plans came to a crashing halt when Samir Meghelli, chief curator at the Smithsonian Anacostia Community Museum, told me this project would be impossible to initiate and even begin within the semesters’ time limits. Thus, ensued mass panic.

After stopping to take a breath, I sat down to brainstorm. As I could not come up with any ideas, I went back to the basics. I thought about what topics I am truly interested in. Then it hit me, my undergraduate final paper for a class on African History, entitled “Evolvement of African Slave Spirituals into Modern Day Songs” would be perfect. I would take a portion of my research from my senior thesis and use that as my topic. This topic would be the “Jazz Age”.

Digital Tool?

            After switching from a digital project to a print project and finding a new topic, my last step was to choose a digital tool…only the most important aspect of this entire project! As I knew I wanted use a word database, I narrowed down my options to Google Ngram and TIME Magazine Corpus. By this point in the semester my time was VERY limited therefore I went with TIME Magazine Corpus as I had already become familiar with its interface during in-class practicums. Therefore, it was decided; I would do a print project using TIME Magazine Corpus to look at how jazz terminology has changed over time.

I explore the trends and their use by using collocates and frequency as a way to explore relationships between terms in this publication. Lastly, I analyze and make conclusions through jazz terminology to shed light on the evolution of culture, language, music, and people.

As I thought I had already jumped over all the hurdles that would come at me while doing this project, I found myself running into one more. After using TIME Magazine Corpus for the basis of my research, I learned that the site has a search limit. A user can only conduct fifty inquiries within twenty-four hours. As I could not afford to pay for an upgrade (because I’m a grad student on the just-ate-a-poptart-for-dinner type of budget), my research stage turned into a long, tedious process.


            After overcoming many (MANY!) obstacles, I was able to use TIME Magazine Corpus to make interesting conclusions and interventions into the history of jazz terminology. One of my favorite conclusions can be found below:

Fig.5 (found in my final project document) conveys insights into American culture and jazz history- the first example of this being “Dizzy.” It is interesting to note that “Dizzy” was most commonly used to refer to the baseball player, Jay Hanna “Dizzy” Dean, also known as Jerome Herman Dean. According to Wikipedia, Dizzy was a World Series champion in 1934, a four-time All-Star selection (1934, 1935, 1936, 1937), and had four consecutive strikeout titles between 1934 and 1937. Dizzy Gillespie, on the other hand, became a major figure in the development of bebop and modern jazz in the 1940s. Thus, Gillespie was more current and on-trend than Dean was when “Dizzy” most frequented the pages of TIME in the fifties and sixties. Therefore, TIME chose to talk more about an older white baseball player rather than a black musician who was making ground-breaking discoveries in music.

As I state in my project, my paper encompasses adequate research. However, I believe it is still very much unfinished. To truly understand the history of jazz terminology in TIME Magazine, one will have to research the authors, the authors backgrounds, the location and decade in which the articles were written and published etc., as well as compare it to other publications. This is only an introduction into what can be learned from this research by using a technological tool. It is rare to find research that approaches digital media and content from the perspective of a historian. Thus, I can only hope that I, or someone else, will continue to connect and converge the digital age with history.

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