Map: Collective phonographic sessions in Spain, 1890-1905

Collective phonographic sessions in Spain, 1890-1905

Ever since I developed the project Spanish Music in Exile, I’ve been fascinated by the opportunities that digital cartography offers to Arts and Humanities research with a strong spatial component. Maps can help us disseminate our research more effectively among specialists and non-specialists, but they can also play a crucial role in the research process by virtue of making the researcher spot trends and connections that might not have been so obvious when analyzing the data in ‘analogue’ form.

My current AHRC-funded project Early Recording Cultures in Spain, 1880-1905: Towards a Transnational History will include development of a GIS (Geographic Information Systems) project. The map below intends to be an initial sketch to be developed at a later stage.

The map aims at recording phonographic sessions in Spain between 1890 and 1905. 1890 denotes the arrival in Spain of Edison’s Perfected Phonograph. At this time, the device was still too expensive and difficult to operate to be viable as a domestic appliance. Most Spanish people, across all social classes, accessed recording technologies through so-called phonographic sessions in which an operator exhibited a phonograph to an audience. Some of these sessions were organized by cultural or trade associations and open to members only, others had commercial aims were accessible to all for a fee, others took place within circles of friends, etc.  The different types of phonographic sessions are signified by markers of different colors.

Phonograph in Salamanca, 8th March 1903. Source: El Adelanto.

Whereas there is evidence that similar phonographic sessions took place in 1906 and beyond, a decision was made to finish the map in 1905, as phonographic sessions were already scarce then, owing to the popularization of the phonograph as a domestic appliance and the competition from other forms of entertainment, such as the cinema.

The map is divided in layers, each of them reflecting either an individual year (e.g. 1894, 1895) or several (e.g. 1890-1893). You can tick or untick the box next to each layer to show or hide on the map the information corresponding to each year.

Phonograph in Palma de Mallorca, 22nd April 1896. Source: El Áncora.

Information about phonographic sessions has been taken from a number of periodical publications available online through Hemeroteca Digital, Prensa Histórica, La Vanguardia and ABC. The map, therefore, cannot show each and every phonographic session in Spain during these years: some periodical publications which would have informed about phonographic sessions in their area are not easily available (e.g. those for cities in La Mancha), and it might also be that not all phonographic sessions were reported or announced in the press (particularly as time went by and they became more common and less worthy of attention).