Commons Highlights: Kendra Preston Leonard

Kendra Preston Leonard’s involvement in the Commons goes back to 2016 with MLA Commons. As a music scholar, librettist, and poet, Leonard has created a number of sites and groups on Humanities Commons that express her interests and expertise. She is the founder and Executive Director of the Silent Film Sound and Music Archive and the founder and manager of Shakespeare in Early Film. She is the creator and administrator of the Commons groups the Julia Perry Working Group and the Southwest Music Studies Colloquium. Her CORE deposits include poetry, articles, reviews, and four books, including Music for the Kingdom of Shadows: Cinema Accompaniment in the Age of Spiritualism. We recently sat down (virtually) with Dr. Leonard to talk about how she’s leveraged the Commons to create groups, publish books, and establish a robust digital presence.

Dr. Kendra Leonard, music scholar, librettist, and poet
Dr. Kendra Leonard, music scholar, librettist, and poet

Finding a Digital Home

“The span of what people can do [on the Commons] is really terrific,” Leonard remarked as we discussed the Commons. With a background in music, teaching, and textbook publishing, she grew disillusioned with the paywalls and prohibitive pricing of books and articles, especially for those who are early in their careers. With the Commons, she found a place where she could publish on her own terms:

“I got into open access and was looking around for ways to share my own work. At first I went the traditional route, publishing with traditional publishers and scholarly journals. It wasn’t such a big deal to think about access then because most people I knew had some sort of institutional access. Then I wasn’t in an academic job and I didn’t have that access.”

After emailing authors asking for copies to access information and understanding the difficulties faced by independent researchers and students who don’t have access to paywalled information, Leonard became committed to her work being open and free to access. While she’s continued to publish some work with traditional publishers, she’s also making her preprints, and in many cases her books, open access by depositing them into CORE and making them available on websites hosted on the Commons. Her book Music for the Kingdom of Shadows: Cinema Accompaniment in the Age of Spiritualism was peer-reviewed on the Commons using CommentPress, and converted to PDF using Anthologize. Setting an example, she’s encouraged others to make their work available as well. Leonard explained:

“I’m not discounting the fact that for a lot of people writing is what earns their living. I’m not trying to suggest that that’s not important. I think when it comes to particularly academic work, for people who work in the humanities, we don’t make money from writing a journal article, and the money we make from writing book chapters is usually pretty negligible. I thought it was important that I had a site where I could kind of model this and I could show people here’s how it works but also that I could use it in a sandbox.”

By engaging in open peer review and making the entire process public, Dr. Leonard has found that it has both streamlined her process and engaged those who are invested in her work:

“[Publishers] find reviewers, and the reviewers are late or the reviewer drops out. Everybody revises, and you do it all over again. The nice thing about open peer review is that the comments are right there and you can get working on it as soon as someone comments. You don’t have to wait for review number two or review number six. I find that people who are invested in open peer review, the people who are going to make comments, are the people who are going to provide feedback in a timely manner, because they want that too. I really think it is the future.”

Taking advantage of the Commons publishing tools has allowed Dr. Leonard to effectively create, engage in peer review, and publish all in one place at no cost. The ability to directly engage with the community has allowed the publishing process to be streamlined without the loss of quality.

Finding Community

Finding like-minded scholars and other interested parties to work on projects is a big part of The Commons infrastructure. Dr. Leonard’s interest in women in music in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries has led to the formation of the Julia Perry Working Group, dedicated to the collection and dissemination of the works of Julia Perry, an  African-American composer.

While on a fellowship in Colorado four years ago, Leonard stumbled upon a collection of African-American women composers’ work, including Perry’s. Much of Perry’s work, letters, and other documents were lost after her death, and what’s left is scattered across many different institutions. She scanned what they had on her phone, and began to talk about what she’d found on social media. When she posted a list of Perry’s works she’d captured on her blog, people started to contact her requesting scores or contributing other material. As the requests began to snowball, she created the Humanities Commons group in order to start crowdsourcing and building a library of scores, articles, and other documents related to Perry and her work.

The resulting interest has resulted in additional opportunities to showcase the work, including consulting with the Louisville, Kentucky Symphony Orchestra (Perry was originally from Kentucky) on an all-Perry program and panel. Leonard is looking for other scholars, particularly BIPOC students and scholars, who may be working on Perry or on the works of African-American women composers, in the hopes of turning over the opportunities to someone in the community with more time to work on them. Seeing this as an opportunity to create community and to empower other scholars is a big part of the creation of the group.

The Southwest Music Studies Colloquium also began in a quest for community. Sponsored in part by the Southwest Chapter of the American Musicological Society, the Colloquium is a program of bi-weekly virtual gatherings for not only musicologists but also music librarians, performers, ethnomusicologists, and all those curious about music research. Members do not need to be members of the American Musicological Society to join. Using Zoom to facilitate meetings, the group encourages all to take part and discuss the latest in research and to attend talks and events in the larger music studies community.

Create your own communities

Dr. Leonard’s personal website on the Commons links to all of her work, serving to organize her digital presence, scholarship, teaching, and creative works. Her profile lists all of her sites, groups, and CORE deposits. Taking full advantage of the free hosting and collaboration tools, she’s established a robust presence online that gives visitors the opportunity to access much of her work. Using the Commons to connect with our 28,000+ members, she’s found connection with those who share her passion for discovery and bringing light to works that deserve more attention. Utilizing the tools at her disposal, she’s created a home not just for herself, but for an entire community of scholars.

Watch Online Communities & Social Justice on YouTube

If you missed our first CORE deposit party fear not, we’ve uploaded it to YouTube. Again, a huge thanks to all of our participants!

Held on March 30, 2021, Online Communities and Transformative Justice was an opportunity to discuss the potential for online communities to engage in anti-racist praxis, transformative justice, and ethical community engagement.

Keynote: “Harnessing Good Intentions: Online Communities and Sustained Commitment to Racial Equity & Diversity,” delivered by Dr. Jan Miyake, Associate Professor of Music Theory at Oberlin College.

Lightning Talks:

“Virtual & Digital Speaker Series: Life Saving Knowledges and Critical Frameworks to Disrupt Heteronormativity,” Ruby Mendoza, Michigan State University

“Re/Building and Recovering Comics Communities Through Wikidata @ Michigan State University,” Justin Wigard, Michigan State University

“Introspective Videos as Antiracist Praxis,” Nick Sanders, Michigan State University

Welcome: Kathleen Fitzpatrick, Michigan State University