Approaches to the use of iconography in historical reconstruction, and the curious case of Renaissance Welsh harp technique

Christopher MacKlin

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Successful research into historical performance practice often relies on the integration of information from many kinds of textual and iconographical sources. However, artists frequently take liberties in depicting their subjects, and it is seldom a straightforward task to distinguish which aspects of a work are indicative of actual historical performance practice and which are the result of artistic licence. One way to address this issue is through so-called 'inferential statistical analysis', by which the data gleaned from a representative sample of interest are compared against the mathematically derived probability that the same results could have occurred by chance. In this paper, the basic ideas and techniques of inferential statistical analysis are applied to the study of harp technique in late medieval and early Renaissance Wales. The results reinforce the conclusions drawn from textual and archaeological studies, and offer direction for modern players interested in playing early Welsh repertory in a historically informed way. More important, however, is the possibility that the empirical approach used in this study may be of use to scholars in any number of fields fascinated by questions of historical practice and reality. The use of inferential statistics offers the researcher an escape from the fallacy of pretending that the puzzle is comprised only of the pieces in sight. Rather, he or she can assess the quantity and quality of what they have learned, and make an informed decision about the path to pursue while remaining open to the very real possibility that things may be otherwise. The framework of historical awareness and quantitative savvy highlights the importance of the individual mind in the construction of history, and gives it a clear view of the problems and pitfalls it must overcome.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)213-224
Number of pages12
JournalEarly Music
Issue number2
StatePublished - 2007


  • Celtic harp
  • Ireland
  • Musical iconography
  • Renaissance Welsh harp
  • Wales

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Music


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