Sounding Spirit

sounding spirit

Sounding Spirit: Scholarly Editions from the Southern Sacred Music Diaspora is publishing digital and print annotated facsimile editions of five influential but currently inaccessible books of sacred southern vernacular music. Sounding Spirit focuses on gospel music, spirituals, shape-note music, and lined-out hymn singing, documenting the critical role textual communities played between 1850 and 1925 in the constellation of vernacular southern sacred music genres that shaped the American popular music landscape.

This initiative examines the roots and intersections of American sacred music traditions through richly annotated editions that harness the unique affordances of digital publishing. Sounding Spirit’s interdisciplinary, annotation-oriented approach to scholarly editing combines analysis of edition texts with their cultural significance among textual communities. Sounding Spirit tells the story of these textual communities by documenting texts’ bibliographic and genre contexts while connecting the books to their contemporaneous cultural contexts. By foregrounding relationships among race, place, religion, and culture, Sounding Spirit editions will explore how these textual communities negotiated modernity, or created alternative modernities, by participating in their respective sacred music traditions.

Supported by the National Endowment for the Humanities’ Scholarly Editions and Translations program, and published by the University of North Carolina Press and the Emory Center for Digital Scholarship (ECDS), Sounding Spirit invites new readings and interpretations of critical sacred music books currently unavailable to scholars and practitioners. The initiative offers scholars of history, musicology, folklore, regional studies, and religious studies access to key texts for research and teaching. Sounding Spirit also appeals to a general audience, including contemporary textual communities rooted in related volumes of sacred music. Published digitally using Readux, the initiative’s editions present high-resolution digitized page images overlaid with accurate transcribed text and multimedia annotations paired with visualizations, apparatus, and critical introductions.

Sounding Spirit is currently accepting proposals from prospective volume editors for editions of gospel songbooks or hymnals published between 1850 and 1925 representing Black or Native American sacred music making.

Project Highlights

Emory Partners

Library and Information Technology Services (LITS): Software Development Team

Pitts Theology Library

Robert W. Woodruff Library: Digitization and Digital Curation

Additional Partners University of North Carolina Press
Funding National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) Scholarly Editions and Translations Grant
Project Contacts Sounding Spirit website

ABBYY FineReader


Key Contributions

ECDS projects advance Emory University's mission through research, pedagogy, publishing, and public scholarship.


The Sounding Spirit initiatives makes the following interventions in American music scholarship:

  1. Gospel, spirituals, lined-out hymn singing, and shape-note music genres emerged and persisted in texts and their communities of use. An examination of these genres’ texts and textual communities documents the collision of Native American, Black, and white peoples in spaces often represented as isolated or homogenous. These texts and textual communities illuminate contestations around race, place, religion, and culture through which practitioners constructed, maintained, and contested American modernities.
  2. Gospel, spirituals, lined-out hymn singing, and shape-note music are core to America’s musical history and foundational to twentieth-century popular and art music.
  3. Digital publishing facilitates access to these largely inaccessible texts and makes possible an engagement that illuminates these interventions. Features of digital editions such as annotations, visualizations, and hyperlinks afford interactivity with the broader cultural landscape of these texts and their textual communities.
Pedagogy The selection and editing of Sounding Spirit volumes presupposes the following:
  • Genres and texts are not neutral. Each refracts the relationships among race, place, religion, and culture that shape the contexts and meaning-making of both contributors and users.
  • Genres and texts are not racially bifurcated. Texts and their communities of use have diverse origins and contents.
  • Genres and texts are not siloed. Texts and their intersecting communities of use engage in musical boundary crossing.
  • Genres and texts are not static categories of analysis. Texts and their communities of use negotiate modernity, or create alternative modernities, by participating in their respective sacred music traditions.
Public Scholarship The songbook editions in Sounding Spirit illustrate the significance of vernacular southern sacred music and document the central role of texts and textual communities in these genres’ emergence and persistence. Each volume’s bibliographic form, genre affiliations, and cultural context illuminate its negotiation of race, place, religion, and modernity. As open access digital editions, Sounding Spirit volumes are accessible to contemporary communities of practice, as well as scholars and teachers of these song traditions.