Music 650
Field Methods in Ethnomusicology: Music and Islam in West Philadelphia

Dr. Carol A. Muller

Course Description
This class is part of a series of Academically Based Community Service classes that examine the relationship between music and spirituality in West Philadelphia. This is the first with a focus on the Islamic community. Previous classes have had the history and contemporary practice of gospel music as their subject.

The purpose of the course is to give students a condensed version of the field research experience as required for their dissertations in ethnomusicology or the anthropology of music. We begin with doing the kinds of reading a student undertakes prior to taking special field examinations, we speak to community members to establish the parameters of the research—expectations, norms, values, limitations—and then proceed to do the field research. Each week students are given a limited amount of reading—both technical and theoretical—because the point of these seminars is to workshop particular projects—thick description, fieldnotes, photographic essays, recorded interviews, the recording of a musical event, and videography.

One of the major outcomes of the course is that students produce a series of ethnographic documents/representations in a variety of media. A key requirement of ABCS work and indeed of all field research, is reciprocity to the community one is researching. One way of ensuring some kind of longterm benefit, is to return these products to the community, or to make them publicly accessible in some way. So all materials produced by students should be made in several copies, and placed in html format so the work can be mounted on the course website: Students are required to provide copies of the videos produced to the community, and even to particular individuals featured in the videos. All original research materials are to be carefully labeled and deposited in Van Pelt Library so that they can be accessed by community members, future researchers etc., at a later date.

A further goal of the class is to use the research project as a means to fostering good relationships between the University of Pennsylvania and its West Philadelphia neighbors, so there is a community engagement component to this class as well. The specifics of the project will be worked out according to the requests from the community and the time students have available to work with the community. This is negotiated as part of the course.

Field methods in Ethnomusicology is taught as an Academically Based Community Service Project—which means that you will learn field research methods both by reading and discussing secondary literature but also in a learning-by-doing process. At the outset we will meet weekly for a three hour seminar, for discussion of assigned readings, with the occasional addition of guests: Eugene Lew from SAS Computing, and members of the Quba Institute, for example. Then we will move into a more applied mode of learning: the seminar will last closer to 2 hours in a “Theory/Practice” styled seminar. Students will read shorter pieces on research methods and reflections, and present weekly projects to the class for feedback from peers. The course requires community involvement beyond the confines of the seminar.
Download complete Spring 2006 syllabus (PDF)