The Use of Newspapers as a Source for Musicological Research:
A Case Study of Dublin Musical Life 1840–44.
PhD thesis, National University of Ireland Maynooth.
Due to a paucity of primary sources, research on music in nineteenth-century Ireland
is largely dependent on newspapers as source material. However, to date, no
comprehensive examination has been conducted into the musical identities of these
newspapers, the bias which influenced their output, or the manner in which they could
or should be utilized for musicological research. Newspapers are unique sources,
providing thorough accounts of everyday life, published commercially for public
consumption, necessarily lacking selectivity or perspective. Their value lies in the
detailed, descriptive level of information which contemporary reporting facilitated,
enabling research on subjects such as musician’s everyday activities, specific areas of
musical life, the relationship between the press and musical institutions and the
commerciality of music.
However, newspapers are written from a particular viewpoint and for a particular
readership, and like any other biased sources, they must be used cautiously. This
study establishes a triangulation approach to newspaper use for musicological
purposes, comparing the output of three newspapers, the Freeman’s Journal, the
Evening Packet and the Saunders’s News-Letter, to ascertain and navigate their
individual biases. In combination with an examination of their fundamental identities
(ideological, political, social and musical), and the context of the industry within
which the newspapers functioned, an understanding of their outputs is distinguished,
thereby enabling a cautious but valuable use of their content for the study of Dublin’s
musical life during the period.
The value of this approach is demonstrated in the case study of Dublin music
societies, examining individually the newspapers’ reports on the activities of those
music societies active in Dublin at the time. The level and detail obtained from the
newspapers significantly contributes to an understanding of the identities of these
societies and their roles within wider musical life, in some cases considerably
supplementing previous research on individual societies, and in others establishing the
existence of societies previously unknown.
Furthermore, this study demonstrates the strength of the Saunders’s News-Letter as a
source for musicological research. Its commercial nature, focusing on advertisements,
provides a quality and quantity of information unparalleled in the other newspapers,
together with a moderate political stance and unique editorial style. However, this
study also emphasises the value and importance of utilizing multiple newspapers for
contrasting coverage and opinions.
A register of musical data on the music societies published from 1840–44 in the
Freeman’s Journal, the Evening Packet and the Saunders’s News-Letter is also
presented with this thesis, illustrating the depth and breadth of information available
in newspapers for musicological research.
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