Studying Performing Arts Across Borders: Towards a European Performing Arts Dataverse (EPAD)

Thunnis van Oort (T.vanOort@uva.nl), University of Amsterdam, Netherlands, The and Ivan Kisjes (I.Kisjes@uva.nl), University of Amsterdam, Netherlands, The

EPAD is an emerging network of scholars investigating the history of European performing arts (theatre, music, cinema) using digital methods and (shared) datasets. EPAD builds on the infrastructure and expertise collected in existing projects at the CREATE research program at the University of Amsterdam with a data-driven approach to the history of cinema, theatre and music performances, functioning as point of departure from where more extensive European cross-sectorial cooperation can develop.

Cultural performances in theatre, music and film have contributed vividly to the formation of individual and social identities in the European past. Cinemas, theatres and concert halls are places par excellence to examine how modern notions of identity like nation, class or gender were forged in a collective, ‘live’ appropriation of ideas, images and experiences (Balme, 2014; Furnée, 2012).

Traditionally, scholarship in music, theatre and film history has prioritized the study of the artwork over its consumption. Since the 1980s, the prevalent text-oriented perspectives have been complemented by a substream of historiography contextualizing the distribution and reception of performing arts (Allen & Gomery 1985; Booth 1991; Fischer-Lichte 1997; Gerhard 1992; Johnson 1995; Staiger, 1992; Weber 1975 Wollenberg and McVeigh 2004). This research tradition is dominated by qualitative approaches often based on distinct case studies, the results of which have proven hard to compare or generalize beyond the local scale (Biltereyst et al. 2018; Cowgill and Rushton 2006; Maltby 2006; Müller 2014). More advanced digital methods and larger datasets can push the research agenda beyond the prevailing particularism by providing wider comparative frameworks and new levels of generalization. Upscaling the scope yields largely uncharted possibilities for transnational perspectives on the relations between cultural consumption and the formation of shared identities (Balme 2015; Charle 2008; Garncarz 2015; Hall-Witt, 2007; Sedgwick 2000). Furthermore, EPAD’s interdisciplinarity promises rare insights in the extent to which audiences of theatre, music and film overlapped and shared socio-cultural characteristics (Engelen et al. 2017; Furnée 2017; Röttger 2017).

Current historiography on the consumption of performing arts is predominantly conceived in local or national frameworks, often limited to the discipline-specific object music, theatre or film. In relative isolation, European musicologists, film and theatre scholars are confronting similar historical questions and methodological and technical issues. Joining forces opens up an agenda of transnational and cross-sectoral comparative research, that does justice to the capacity to travel across geographical, social and medium boundaries that is so characteristic of the performing arts. Moreover, data-driven historical audience research has the capacity for significant revisions of established cultural canons or genre hierarchies (Blom and Van Marion 2017; Garncarz 2015; Nieuwkerk 2017; Weber and Newark forthcoming).

Dozens of performing arts databases are scattered across Europe (Baptist et al. forthcoming). These multiform online data collections contain a variety of information on programming, and/or the venues, locations, people and organisations involved in theatrical presentation. Aggregated and combined with socio-economic data, these data can generate new insights in the social meanings of the cultural exchanges in European theatres and concert halls, for instance by delineating taste patterns and (other) socio-spatial audience characteristics.

To realize a data-driven history of the performing arts we need to join forces. The EPAD network strives to open up an exchange of expertise, data and technical know-how. To develop this research agenda, collaborating scholars need to find solutions in three (interlocking) domains:

1) address methodological-ontological questions. To facilitate comparative research into the socio-cultural dynamics of performing arts audiences, we need to reflect on the definitions of the objects of study. What exactly constitutes a performance, a venue? Can we agree on shared ontologies for structuring our data?

2) develop and refine a theoretical-historiographical framework for comparative, transnational and interdisciplinary research into the performing arts that addresses the relation between cultural consumption and social identity formation.

3) confront technical-infrastructural issues: outline the conditions for data interoperability. How can existing facilities and tools best be utilized for creating a virtual research infrastructure for comparative transnational research on the history of performing art cultures? We aim to build upon the CLARIAH infrastructure and tools for harmonizing and querying socio-economic datasets based on a linked data approach (CLARIAH Structured Data Hub). The work involves developing ontologies, shared data models and thesauri containing internationally shared terms for performing arts data, as well as building the actual infrastructure within the context of the European Digital Research Infrastructure for the Arts and Humanities DARIAH.


Appendix A

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