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Essay 3: Research Methods

In her recent article, “Beyonce’s Overwhelming Opus; or, the Past and Future of Music Video,” Carol Vernallis claims that music video has played a central role in creating a culture of what she calls “intensified audiovisuality.” Moreover, she argues the following: “If schools, museums, and libraries paid more attention to ‘minor arts’ like pop music and music video, we might interpret our contemporary mediascape differently, and we might be more attuned to the ways audiovisual ideas flow through today’s media swirl.”

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George Lipsitz also argues that popular music ought to be taken seriously. In Footsteps in the Dark: The Hidden Histories of Popular Music, he writes that popular songs can reflect and shape “important historical realities, even though their creators for the most part never intended them to be heard in that way.”

Taking a similar approach in her study of blues music, Blues Legacies and Black Feminism, Angela Davis argues that female blues musicians bridged social consciousness with musical expression, thereby paving the way for later artists and the evolution of popular music. In short, for Davis, music is not just historical: it’s history in the making.
If one were to break down the methodologies of George Lipsitz and Angela Davis, we’d see the following steps being taken in each author’s work (albeit in differing orders based on the priorities of the author and the needs of the audience). In list form, both authors do the following:

Draw from critical and scholarly perspectives to make a case
Locate songs in their historical context
Describe the musical sounds
Identify meaningful sonic details
Interpret the sounds
Indicate topics, themes, and content of lyrics
Cite lyrics
Interpret lyrics
Utilize relevant sources and artifacts
Demonstrate the music’s current relevance
Now, to flesh this out, we can see that certain things are particularly important with research writing about popular culture (along with myriad other topics). We could say that doing these things are truly essential for successful research writing about music, in general, and for success on your upcoming research paper, specifically:

Establish context: determine the who, what, when, where, and for whom.
Research around the music: gather relevant texts, clips, images.
Listen closely to the music: discover and discuss sonic details to further your interpretation.
Interpret the music contextually: show how topics and themes relate to its given contexts, both then and
Use existing scholarship to position your arguments: contend, proceed, engage with other scholars.
Make a case for your music: show people how to listen to it so they can discover why it matters.
For now, think as much about what Davis says about blues music as you think about how she orchestrates a plethora of information to deliver an impactful argument. In other words, come to appreciate her methodology at work as you learn about the blues and see how an argument can emerge from carefully organized and closely considered research materials.

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Think of Essay 3 as a methodological precursor to your upcoming research paper: for Essay 3, we are focused on how Vernallis, Lipsitz, and Davis develop their arguments. That is, we are chiefly interested in observing the methods each author uses to make a case for the importance of their objects of study. For Vernallis, that object of study is music video; for Lipsitz, popular music; and for Davis, Black women’s blues music. So, your paper should be less about summarizing the topics and arguments (though some of that is necessary for context). Your paper should be more about the methods the authors employ as researchers and writers.

Essay 3 Prompt: Compare and contrast the methods you see at work in the writing of Carol Vernallis, George Lipsitz, and Angela Davis. In your introduction, provide an overview of the intentions of your project; discuss the relevance of the analysis you’re going to do, perhaps even in reference to critical media literacy; and be sure to narrow down your thesis to offer a point of significance about the authors’ methods. You might find focus by answering one of these questions: What do these authors teach us about research? What about their methods leads them to argue successfully or unsuccessfully? What can be said about how these methods facilitate interpretation—or perhaps even certain kinds of interpretation? These are just some possible questions to consider answering in your thesis. As you move through the body paragraphs of your essay, be sure to showcase key examples from each reading that allow you to compare and contrast the authors’ methods.

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