Skip to content
Home > Blog > Articles > “Surveying the Field of Historical Musicology Education” by Christophe Levaux (Sapienza Università di Roma and Université libre de Bruxelles)

“Surveying the Field of Historical Musicology Education” by Christophe Levaux (Sapienza Università di Roma and Université libre de Bruxelles)

From August 28th to September 1st, 2023, a collaborative workshop (Short-Term Scientific Mission) took place at the Centre d’études supérieures de la Renaissance (CESR) in Tours. Participants Adam Whittaker (Royal Birmingham Conservatoire) and Christophe Levaux (Sapienza Università di Roma) were hosted by Philippe Vendrix (CESR – CNRS) and Guillaume Avocat (CESR). The primary objective of this STSM was to produce a report on the field of historical musicology across Europe, offering a robust overview of research and teaching in historical musicology (or ‘musicology of early music’) in European universities and research institutions.

The motivation underpinning this task stemmed from the absence of reliable information on this field across Europe. Musicologists, dispersed across numerous academic institutions worldwide, often only hear about the approaches of, and issues in, other institutions through hearsay, professional networks, or through chance conversations over coffee at conferences. Whilst many colleagues have strong professional networks in their own countries and beyond, there is a general lack of agreed data on the number of institutions offering musicology programs, the number of permanent researchers, doctoral students, or ongoing funded projects. These are key statistics that could help represent the strength and scope of the field. Whilst there have been attempts to explore these issues at national levels, the underlying data is either restricted to local and national contexts, or is no longer up to date. Our report aimed to address these kinds of issues and provide researchers in the field with a tool to present an accurate representation of their sector as it stands today, with the explicit aim of fortifying their discipline and advocating for it with policy makers.

The work of the mission was constructed around an iterative process in multiple phases. In its initial phase, work centered on a questionnaire that had been disseminated a few months before to participants hailing from various corners of Europe (in April-July 2023). The questionnaire specifically asked researchers in historical musicology about data relating to their field as mentioned above: number of researchers, types of employment contracts, research structures, funded projects, etc. The initial hours of the workshop were dedicated to the meticulous scrutiny of the responses to the questionnaire. The exercise revealed a few key observations:

1) Highly differentiated understandings of the definition of ‘early music’, central to the EarlyMuse project, especially in terms of the temporal boundaries of the field.

2) A deficit model concerning the field dynamism. A convergence of observations suggests that those working in the field feel that the discipline is suffering from a shortage of students, staff and resources in general. However, the depth of the EarlyMuse community, significant growth in specialist conferences, and the relative success in securing major research funding paints a different picture.

3) Complexities in the availability of data make it difficult to acquire structural information about the early music field. Many of those surveyed do not have access to key information, even on an institutional or local scale.

To explore some of these issues further, subsequent phases of the mission encompassed the augmentation of the questionnaire dataset through comprehensive research in diverse databases or repositories and institutional websites. The aim here was to fill the information gap in this field. One of the principal takeaways from our data collection efforts was that collecting this kind of information is an arduous task, and one that is fraught with irregularities from one institution or country to another. Local knowledge, and an understanding of different subject classification systems, is vital to avoid misplaced comparisons. For example, researchers undertaking musicological research may be classified within different departmental and faculty delineations which, without proper context, could lead to problematic conclusions. As such, the STSM team developed a series of questions for WG1 and WG5 members to investigate with colleagues at the Working Group 1 meeting in Padua in September 2023. This approach provided more precise answers, supported by specific figures, that delineated the state of historical musicology, whilst also raising further areas in need of future research. This is an essential step towards the structural consolidation and sustainability of the discipline, and an important exercise in testing widely-held perceptions about the field.

Photo by Adam Whittaker