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Dissertation databases on the Web.

Tracking down a music dissertation with the aid of one of the many modern Web-based databases is far easier then it was just ten years ago. One can now use keywords to scour a commercial search engine or a pay site to locate dissertation titles, abstracts, and even full text documentation regardless of publication year or location. With all of this information readily available on the Web, one could be tempted into thinking that a comprehensive, electronic index for music dissertations must be available, but unfortunately, one-stop shopping for dissertations does not exist. Even the more comprehensive sites, like Dissertation Abstracts Online, will locate music dissertations from as far back as the mid-19th century, but with a bias towards dissertations from North American universities. Music scholars must still use European sources like Index to Theses in Great Britain and Ireland ( or Dissertationsmeldestelle der Gesellschaft fur Musikforschung ( to create an improved global picture of music scholarship. For those who do not have access to pay sites, locating a music dissertation is even more challenging, but not impossible. In this review, three free sites, Doctoral Dissertations in Musicology-Online, Archive of Dissertation Abstracts in Music, and the Dissertation Index from Music Theory Online will be evaluated for comprehensiveness and ease of use. Dissertation Abstracts Online will be analyzed first in order to create a standard for comparison purposes.

Dissertation Abstracts Online. ProQuest Information and Learning. Available through various database providers. For information, see [Requires a Web browser and an Internet connection. Pricing varies]

With over two million completed dissertations going as far back as 1861 and abstracts from as far back as 1980, Dissertation Abstracts Online (DAO) towers over most other dissertation databases. Navigation through this database is effortless due to the robust limiting and searching commands available when accessed through OCLC's FirstSearch ( One can limit and sort by numerous access points such as year, institution, and subject area, or create a general keyword search, which is applied to all citations and abstracts in the database. This makes it quite simple to discover that 27,978 music dissertations have been indexed in this database, the earliest from 1895. It also makes it quite simple to crosscheck the amount of music dissertations for any given school with one's local holdings for inventory purposes or to check for cataloging discrepancies. As noted earlier, even though this database contains almost two million records it is still not comprehensive on a global scale. When one combines a "music" subject heading with a foreign country or city in the "institution field," the results are far less than one would expect. Whether this is a limitation of the First-Search engine or an indication of the low percentage of foreign dissertations titles held within the database can not be determined with certainty.

Doctoral Dissertations in Musicology-Online. Center for the History of Music Theory and Literature, Indiana University. [Requires a Web browser and an Internet connection.]

The first edition of Doctoral Dissertations in Musicology (DDM) contained 482 titles and appeared in print form in 1952. Since that time there have been numerous print volumes and a free online database that contains over 13,370 keyword searchable complete or in process titles. Unlike DAO, Doctoral Dissertations in Musicology-Online (DDM-O) is only an index, so no abstracts are available. Nor can searching be fine-tuned to a specific field. If one were to search the keyword "London," it would recall all titles with London as the institution, title, or author. While this makes limiting one's search challenging, Boolean commands, three simultaneous search boxes, and a little ingenuity enable an acceptable level of precision. With some work, one is able to discover the oldest dissertation on record (1897), and the amount of dissertations indexed as compared to the amount of dissertations generated by a specific university. When this technique was applied to Stony Brook University, DDM-O recalled less then half of the music dissertations created. This same technique produced a complete listing when applied to DAO. It must be pointed out that one can not sort the search results through DDM-O; they are presented in alphabetical order by the author's last name.

It may seem that DAO has DDM-O beat in terms of its searching capabilities, but the browsing capability found in the DDM-O site adds a feature not found on DAO. This allows the user to browse dissertations by musical period, essentially duplicating the arrangement of the print editions. The site can be browsed by dissertations with areas that fall into general/miscellaneous, antiquity, Middle Ages, Renaissance, baroque, classical, romantic, twentieth century, and twenty-first century eras. It must also be noted that although DDM-O has half as many music dissertation titles as DAO, it seems to have far more European music titles. Given the same search criteria "London," and limiting the subject heading to "music," DAO produced only eight titles where DDM-O produced no fewer then 250 titles published through an academic institution in London. On that fact alone, DAO is a worthy database for international titles and merits a bookmark in one's browser.

Archive of Dissertation Abstracts in Music. Maintained by Geoffrey Chew. [Requires a Web browser and an Internet connection.]

The Archive of Dissertation Abstracts in Music (ADAM) includes the indexing and abstract information for 186 music dissertations completed or in process along with the authors' e-mail addresses. All 186 abstracts from as far back as 1973 are listed alphabetically by author name, and are keyword searchable by phrase or term through an open source search engine. What is interesting about this database is that only 47 percent of the abstracts are from North America. The remaining 53 percent are mostly European, but some are from places scattered throughout the world. This site can come in handy when used in conjunction with DDM-O, especially when one does not have access to a pay site or when one is having trouble locating foreign titles. This is particularly true given that DDM-O does not include abstracts. An item found in DDM-O, and not in DAO, may be abstracted in ADAM. Thus, it becomes apparent that for true comprehensiveness (often essential when dealing with dissertations), several sources must be used. As ADAM works well in conjunction with the others, this is another site I recommend music academics keep bookmarked in their browsers.

Music Theory Online Dissertation Index. Society for Music Theory. [Requires a Web browser and an Internet connection.]

The Music Theory Online Dissertation Index (MTO-DI) is a component of Music Theory Online (, which has had a permanent place on the Web since 1995. MTO provides peer-reviewed articles in music theory free of charge, and the dissertation index offers access to abstracts of roughly 236 completed dissertations dealing with music theory. This may not seem an impressive number when compared to DAO, but when one considers that this is a global selection that focuses on one area of music academia, it a useful tool for the music theory community. While the earliest dissertation is from 1973, all but three are from 1991 or later. As with DDM-O, many of the foreign dissertations in MTO-DI are not indexed in DAO. This points out again that a smaller database can be used very effectively when the user is aware of its assets and limitations. In addition to an abstract, keyword terms and, sometimes, a table of contents, most dissertations provide contact information for the author (which may, obviously, be out of date).

One weakness of the MTO-DI is the lack of a search engine designed to encompass only the dissertation abstracts. It is possible to search the MTO site, including the dissertation index, using Google (, but this is not made clear on the MTO-DI page. One must go to the MTO home page and look for the Google search box. In addition to pertinent (and less pertinent) dissertations, search results include other documents on the MTO site, which makes searching for a dissertation somewhat awkward. Keyword terms are assigned to each dissertation, but they do not constitute a controlled vocabulary. It is also possible to sort the complete index listing by author, title, institution or year completed, and examine for pertinent data. In conjunction with ADAM and DDM-O, MTO-DI can come in handy for users without access to a pay service or those searching for foreign abstracts in music theory, and for contact information for the author.

Going into this review, it seemed that if one has access to DAO, it would be pointless to use the free sites available on the Web but, as outlined above, this is not the case. Whereas DAO was indeed richer in North American titles and had tremendous flexibility in creating searches, it came up short on foreign dissertations. It is important not to be misled by DAO's claim to almost two million dissertations, as only one to two percent of these dissertations include titles with music in the subject heading. One must also note that DAO only lists completed dissertations while DDM-O and ADAM list dissertations that are in process in addition to completed works. Depending on one's criteria for locating a dissertation, this fact alone may merit a search through the databases of DDM-O and ADAM.

Certainly, resources like DDM-O, ADAM, and MTO-DI demonstrate that the larger resources are not as comprehensive as they may lead us to believe. Given that the three freely-accessible dissertation databases evaluated in this review provide the academic music community with many titles not available through DAO, they are practical research tools as well.


Stony Brook University
Dissertation Index Comparison Chart

 Dissertations Abstract Doctoral Dissertations in
Database Online Musicology--Online

Web Address Will vary based on
Dates 1861-present. Abstracts 1897-present
 since 1980. Thesis
 abstracts since 1988.
 Earliest music
 dissertation found was
 from 1895.
Complete or Complete Both
in Process
Number of over 2 million / 27,978 13,370+ only music
Records located with music
 subject heading.
Searching Extremely robust with Straight keyword with and/or/not
 command line, controlled and wildcard Boolean commands.
 vocabulary and keyword Not able to limit by access
 searching. User is able points. No sorting ability.
 to isolate access points
 such as university, year
 and subject, and then
 rank selections.
Browsing None supplied. An index of authors is provided.
 Can browse through 8 musical
Sources North American and North American and select
 select European European Countries
Abstracts Included None

 Music Theory Online Archive of Dissertation
Database Dissertation Index Abstracts in Music

Web Address http://
Dates 1975-Present 1973-present.
Complete or Complete Both
in Process
Number of 236 only music / mostly 186 only music
Records theoretical in nature

Searching The dissertation index does not Powered by Web Search
 have a dedicated search engine, 1.05b. Open source
 but one may search the entire MTO search engine which
 site by keyword including allows for keyword and
 dissertation abstracts. phrase searching. The
 search engine queries
 all abstracts, titles
 and authors for each
Browsing Can browse and sort the complete By authors last name
 index by author, title, only.
 institution and year completed.
Sources 72% are from North America the 47% are from North
 remaining 28% vary from around the America, the remaining
 world but are mostly European. 53% vary from around
 the world but are
 mostly European.
Abstracts Included Included
COPYRIGHT 2006 Music Library Association, Inc.
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Author:Toulas, Andrew
Article Type:Website list
Date:Sep 1, 2006
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