When I began my research into women’s music of the antebellum South, I quickly realized that the most reliable data source was a bound volume of music that contained information about the owner. Sure, there are hundreds of thousands of individual pieces of sheet music, and some including identification. But the task of sorting through them all simply would be overwhelming, at least at this point in time. I have found that a better practice is to work with bound volumes (what musicologists call “binder’s volumes”) that contain evidence of provenance and to move forward from there. This, in turn, allows me to look at women’s musical practices from different vantage points, all of which contribute to a more complete understanding of how music functioned in women’s lives in a given period and place.
I am not the first person to delve into these treasure troves of information, nor am I the only person doing so now. Some examples of scholarly research in this regard are The Austen Family Music Books, El Álbum de Isidora Zegers, Cultivated by Hand: Amateur Musicians in the Early American Republic, or Emily’s Songbook: Music in 1850s Albany. Each of these treats the material in different ways. My own publications can be found here.