• Open Insights: An interview with Adrian Curtin and Adam Whittaker

    Open Insights: An interview with Adrian Curtin and Adam Whittaker

    Posted by Paula Clemente Vega on 2022-02-03


Representing Classical Music in the Twenty-First Century

An Open Insights interview with Adrian Curtin and Adam Whittaker 


Dr Adam Whittaker is Head of Pedagogy and a Lecturer in Music at Royal Birmingham Conservatoire. He is a Fellow of the Higher Education Academy and is an internationally recognised scholar in musicology and music education. 

Dr Adrian Curtin is a senior lecturer in the Drama department of the University of Exeter. He is the author of Avant-Garde Theatre Sound: Staging Sonic Modernity (Palgrave 2014) and Death in Modern Theatre: Stages of Mortality (Manchester University Press, 2019).

They are both co-investigators of the AHRC-funded research network Representing ‘Classical Music' in the Twenty-First Century and guest-editors of the associated Open Library of Humanities Special Collection. 

Thanks so much for agreeing to this interview. Could you start by saying a bit about yourselves and the Representing Classical Music project?

We are the organisers of an AHRC research network entitled ‘Representing Classical Music in the Twenty-First Century’. The network operated from 2019 to 2021 and brought together scholars from the humanities and social sciences along with professionals from the classical music industry to discuss different aspects of representation pertinent to classical music. There were about thirty people involved in the network. We held symposia in Exeter, London, and online. The network had a dual focus, which was one of its distinctive features: we explored contemporary artistic and media representation of classical music as well as demographic representation in the classical music sector and endeavoured to connect these different domains. One of the ways we did this was to engage a creative writer who was attached to the project and participated in network events. Dzifa Benson was commissioned to write a new script that was informed by the discussions we had. Her play Black Mozart, White Chevalier explores the relationship between Mozart and his lesser-known contemporary, Joseph Bologne, Chevalier de Saint-Georges. Dzifa’s play became part of our discussions and served as a meeting-point between our own respective disciplines – theatre studies and musicology. 

That’s great. My next question is perhaps somewhat obvious given the context but: why did you choose OLH as a publisher for the outputs of this funded project?

When we were considering potential publishers, we discovered the OLH’s website and were impressed by the special collections, in particular. We could see that our project could fit within this structure. We read various articles and were impressed by the quality of the scholarship. We were also persuaded by the statements about research integrity and the institutional network that supports the enterprise. Our initial dialogue with the journal, when we pitched the idea of our special collection, was encouraging. It was clear you had a careful selection process. And we liked the fact that articles could be published on a rolling basis, once they were accepted, and we didn’t have to wait until every article was ready before the special collection could be launched.

The OLH is a perfect publisher for our project because of its disciplinary breadth. The contributors to our special collection represent multiple disciplines in the humanities and social sciences. It isn’t easy to find journals that would accommodate such disciplinary variety. We did not wish to speak to one discipline only. We talked about this recently when preparing our introduction to the special collection. We reminded ourselves that our imagined readers (and, hopefully, our actual readers) are not all musicologists, so we needed to address a wider readership.

Could you say something about the experience of working with us and what you achieved as a result? 

We are immensely grateful to the OLH team for their support throughout the process, particularly in helping us guide articles from the peer review stage right through to publication. The team was meticulous in their work to ensure that all stages of the publication process were completed in a rigorous and timely fashion, whilst also understanding the need for flexibility as Covid impacted (and continues to impact) on the ability of authors, reviewers, and editors to meet deadlines. The OLH database of peer reviewers was also helpful in recruiting reviewers for highly interdisciplinary work, something we feel has enriched the contributions in the special collection. The team has also been responsive to our queries and requests and we are really pleased with the special collection, which we think is unique.

It is really great to see high-quality, funded research finding its way into open access venues. Why did open-access specifically matter for you?

One of the overarching aims of the network was to draw together perspectives from a broad range of participants, working in different disciplines and across industry. This led to fruitful conversations throughout the network and helped to move debates beyond a discipline-specific silo. It was important to us that the special collection that emerged from our network discussions was available to a similarly broad audience, especially readers who are not able to access online collections through an institutional affiliation. Many of those working in the classical music sector operate in freelance or precarious positions, and so making project outputs available in an open-access format was essential to increase the potential impact of the research. Indeed, we stated as much in our AHRC application, so the idea was in our minds from the outset. Our ambition to draw in a broad range of readers through open access publishing has been realised, with some of the articles attracting a very large number of downloads – 30,000, in one case! Clearly this is one of the benefits of open-access publishing!

Is there anything else you’d like to add?

The wide disciplinary remit of the OLH makes it an ideal place for publishing work that crosses traditional academic disciplinary boundaries. The variety of formats the OLH supports, including video essays, means that high-quality work can be published in diverse forms. The OLH encourages us to re-think how scholarship is produced, presented, and accessed, which is exciting. How can scholarship be reconfigured for a digital environment? We are curious to find out, and we see the OLH as being part of an important avant-garde in academic publishing. We encourage other scholars to get involved.


Thank you so much for taking the time to speak with us!


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