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  • 'Mapping Liverpool’s musical heritage: 'Professor Sara Cohen, University of Liverpool


2 year project, exploring the relationship between popular music and urban landscape. Sponsored by AHRC – based on a partnership with National Museums Liverpool, English Heritage and URBIS.

Looking at how popular music characterises cities and urban environments in a context of change.

How musicians interact with and characterise urban environments, through their music and music-making practices – how this is influenced by a wider organisation of urban space.

Also wider implications in terms of culture and urban development, cultural heritage, local distinctiveness etc.

Focus on Liverpool as a case study – interesting in terms of changing landscape of the city, and popular music very connected to the image and identity of the city.

Research methods – ethnographic research with musicians – spending time with them, interviewing them, looking at everyday journeys musicians make around the city – sites (real and imagined) connected to music.

How musicians engaged with, used, experienced, represented such sights, connected them with ideas and memories etc.

Also looked at change over time, exploring the use of mapping as an approach – aim to work with GIS digital mapping.



Sara demonstrated how different maps and mapping were used.



The Beat Goes On – World Museum Liverpool (July 2008-Nov 2009) – contributed some maps based on research, showing music sites in Liverpool.

Produced before ethnographic research.

Didn’t use GIS for exhibition purposes.

Liverpool Record Office, University collections, musicians – archival material.

Also used fire insurance maps – e.g. St John’s precinct – plans from early 60s – 4 pubs in the basement designed as live music venues.



Produced a pilot interactive map for the exhibition – 6 maps focused very loosely around music areas in Liverpool, each with 35 music venues. Clicked on sites to gain access to archival materials (photographs, images, videos, music clips, texts, interviews etc).



View to working towards something that would have more ethnographic data in it.

Then spent more time on the ethnographic work with musicians – hung out with musicians, participated in and observed the music-making activities, to find out about musician’s experiences, perceptions of etc the city – used the University recording studio as a tool to work with, get closer to and give something back to the musicians.

Also showed maps to them – using that as a way of prompting discussion and sharing stories about particular sites. Got them to draw their own maps, highlighting musical journeys around the city. Also accompanied musicians on walking tours around the city – outlining musical routes. Compiled maps based on these tours (walking interviews).



Maps (some of which were presented by Sara) to be understood in the context of the stories being told as the maps were drawn.

Interested in patterns of maps and the stories that went along with them – questions they provoke about relationship between music and urban environment, and urban change.



Intention to create a GIS map – incorporating the archival and ethnographic materials.

Recoded database and reinterpreted it via GIS. Struggles – not GIS experts, limited time. Trying to balance qualitative ethnographic material with quantitative approach taken for GIS. Coded maps by types of venue involved etc. Concern that the experience, journeys of musicians were becoming secondary to technical aspects in relation to GIS maps.

Found maps useful in tracing changes over time and musical journeys of musicians through the city, prompting stories and memories – wanted to use ethnographic material to bring maps to life.

Limitations of each approach – raised questions about the politics of mapping (what to include / leave out), which maps, whose maps etc.

One of main questions to explore next – continue to think about balancing ethnographic data with digital mapping software.

Thinking about how to make the information more accessible to wider audiences.



Proposal accepted by English Heritage – one of two books hoping to come out of the project. Series of books on music cities in UK – musical history, incorporating maps and ethnographic data, hopefully accompanied by an interactive website. Also interest in exploring use of hand-held devices etc – how to make this more interactive and use mobile technology.