19th-Century Musicians as Annotators


An ambitious collaborative project in partnership with the British Library and the visual exploration platform ©Zegami. The pilot (hosted by the University of Oxford, 2019-2021) was funded by the British Academy, the Leverhulme Trust and the University of Oxford’s John Fell Fund.

If you have ever stepped into a library, you know how to get hold of a music score or a book you are looking for: you browse the catalogue and request the item. It is a process of individuation, mostly based on details of authorship (who wrote something, who published or produced it, in other words, the making of that object). What tends to be discounted in this approach is the experience of previous owners or users of that item.

In the first stage of this project, we created a prototype digital resource (using a small collection of manuscripts previously owned by Luigi Cherubini) that enables alternative visualisations – and perspectives – on the material: visualisations specifically tailored to explore annotations and other traces of usage left by nineteenth-century musicians while interacting with these objects. They can be marginalia, ownership inscriptions, dedications, performance markings, page cut-outs and paste-ins, etc. Focusing on these traces is a means to imagine owners and users interacting with the material, thus facilitating our exploration of their priorities and agendas in handling it. A scholarly article about the digital resource is in preparation, and details of the publications will be added here as they become available.

In the second stage, the PI directed 2 short documentaries, and wrote 2 short articles for the British Library’s permanent digital exhibition Discovering music: 19th century. These 4 items represent the more “public facing” outcomes of the project. They were designed for an audience of non-specialists, in an accessible and jargon-free format. Dr Fabio Morabito explores how people used and interacted with music before the advent of recording technologies. During the 19th century, music relied on the same technology of “recording” and preservation used for literature. Listen to/read Dr Morabito discussing the origins of today
s mass music consumption in people’s hands, rather than ears.

F. Morabito: 10 min short film Handling Music (2022) The British Library.

F. Morabito: 10 min short film Annotating Music (2022) The British Library.

F. Morabito: article “The 19th-Century Album,” (2022) in Discovering Music: 19th century, The British Library.

F. Morabito: article “Autograph Collectors of the 19th Century,” (2022) in Discovering Music: 19th century, The British Library.

In the third stage, the PI curated a scholarly publication in collaboration with colleagues in Musicology, English Literature and History. This work, which explores the wider applications of this research (well beyond the field of musicology and nineteenth-century case studies), is currently under review. Publication details will be added here as they become available.


Principal Investigator: Dr Fabio Morabito, University of Oxford (then University of Alberta)

Stage 1:

Dr Reuben Phillips, Princeton University (then University of Oxford)

Dr Rupert Ridgewell, The British Library

Dr Amelie Roper, The British Library

Dr Kevin Page, Oxford e-Research Centre

Mr Roger Noble, Zegami

Mr Doug Lawrence, Zegami

Project Assistants: Mr William Nattrass (stage 1, 2 and 3), Mr Reuben Tendler (stage 2)

Stage 3:

Dr Erin Johnson-Williams, Durham University (then University of Southampton)

Prof Kate van Orden, Harvard University

Prof Deidre Shauna Lynch, Harvard University

Dr Tom Stammers, Durham University



In partnership with:

Funded by:

Page last edited - 23 Nov 2022