Three Questions with Rebecca Geoffroy-Schwinden
Three Questions is an initiative to share the value that our faculty, students, and others in the UNT community derive from using the Unique Collections at UNT Libraries.
How important are Unique Collections in your teaching, learning or research?
The libraries’ services are absolutely essential to my teaching. My courses are mostly at the graduate level and are designed primarily to show students how to research and write effectively. Most music graduate students, whether pursuing a master’s or doctoral degree, will need to complete a thesis or dissertation to graduate. And so they need to develop an applied understanding of how to systematically navigate the libraries’ many resources in in order to find reliable sources for their work.
How have Unique Collections changed the way you approach your research, teaching or learning?
When I began to explore the rich materials housed in UNT’s music special collections, it occurred to me that they offered an ideal opportunity to provide students with a hands-on experience in primary source research. Most students have only learned history through secondary—even tertiary!—sources. The learning object of my advanced music research course is for Doctoral of Musical Arts students to learn how to design dissertation topic proposals. In the proposals, students must justify an original research project by posing a research question, writing a review of relevant literature, and choosing materials and methodologies to answer their question. I began the course with a basic (far too general!) research question: what role have women played in the UNT College of Music’s history? My students entered the UNT music special collections to find out. A fascinating array of research project designs emerged highlighting the many women who have contributed to the College of Music as administrators, faculty members, staff members, and students throughout the twentieth century. We found everything from photographs, to postcards, to bracelets and conducting batons! Of course, these were among the more expected music manuscripts, newspaper clippings, and letters. Quite a few students used the Julia Smith collection to develop vastly different research projects: one considered how Smith’s letters reveal the composer promoting women in classical music concerts, another explored the disputes that arose among Smith, her librettist, and the Girl Scouts of America during the writing of the libretto for her opera Daisy, and another questioned why Smith’s opera Cynthia Parker was so well received in 1940s Texas, but not upon its revival in the 1980s. One project focused on materials from eminent UNT librarian Anna Harriet Heyer’s pioneering music librarianship course from the 1940s. The students then contextualized these materials in larger research conversations in the field of women and music. While they acquired practical skills in research design, the students also took away what I think is a far more valuable lesson: that every history that we read is the result of a series of writers’ and researchers’ choices. Thus, we have an opportunity to tell more inclusive, and (I think) more compelling histories by digging into archives, telling new stories, and situating our results in relation to pre-existing scholarly conversations.
What do you want others to know about your research, teaching or learning?
While they acquired practical skills in research design, the students also took away what I think is a far more valuable lesson: that every history that we read is the result of a series of writers’ and researchers’ choices. Thus, we have an opportunity to tell more inclusive, and (I think) more compelling histories by digging into archives, telling new stories, and situating our results in relation to pre-existing scholarly conversations. Also, there are so many stories just waiting to be told in the UNT special collections, I would encourage even those who aren’t history buffs to check it out!
Rebecca Geoffroy-Schwinden is an Assistant Professor in the UNT College of Music, where she is the Classical Era and eighteenth century specialist on the music history faculty. Her research on musical life in Enlightenment, Revolutionary, and Napoleonic France has appeared in journals including Studies in Eighteenth-Century Culture, Women & Music, and Transposition— musique et sciences sociales. Rebecca’s article “Music as Feminine Capital in Napoleonic France: Nancy Macdonald’s Musical Upbringing,” recently received the Music & Letters Centenary Prize for best original article in musicology. She received her Ph.D. from Duke University, where she was inducted into the Society of Duke Fellows.