2019 Abstracts: Thursday

Abstracts are organized by approximate session time. We are still in the process of uploading abstracts; all are subject to change. Abstracts are also available for Tuesday and Wednesday.

Collecting in Context (Session 10)

SORT BY and SELECT IF: 30 years of digital analysis | Barbara Bell

The structures of digital collections, their data choices and access points, necessarily impact on the flexibility that they offer subsequent individual/single issue researchers and projects that cannot be imagined beforehand. With this in mind ‘end results’ can be informative; how completed large-scale database projects succeed in revealing previously hidden practices, pose the question as to whether their dataset choices can be applied more widely.

From 1987-1991, the first digital analysis of the nineteenth-century theatre repertoire in Britain was conducted by a researcher into Scottish theatre. In total, 35,000 playbills, covering 30,000 nights in 281+ theatrical venues garnered from 16 different libraries/named collections in the UK and USA were analysed to create a Main Catalogue Listing of 3,605 entries. A union Calendar Listing prevented duplication. Each entry recorded multiple elements [30+] selected as revealing the underlying workings of the repertoire. Another key aspect was the inclusion of two smaller Listings taken from the Henderson Collection of Playbills in the Folger Shakespeare Library, which acted as a ‘control’ in the experiment.

Combining the choices made in creating the data TAGS alongside the program’s ability to SORT BY and SELECT IF, it was possible to uncover previously hidden processes and trends. This paper places the project’s findings, about process and product, in a contemporary context, offering up a fresh perspective on the questions to be asked of new ventures in terms of format, development processes and the relationship between archivists, scholars, citizen scholars and general readers.

Building the Rose Theatre Archive 1989 – 2019 | Johanna Schmitz, Olivia Rader

The Rose Theatre archive (1989-2019) is a material and digital collection related to the 30-year period since the discovery of the Rose archaeological site in 1989 from the “Campaign to Save the Rose” (the protests and various negotiations that saved the site) to the on-going “Rose Revealed Project” (the development scheme now underway to finish the excavation and remodel the site for use as a museum and flexible theatre space). Since I participated in the first “Digitizing the Early Modern Stage” conference (2017), I have increased the number of items in the collection from 495 to more than 5,080 using the Omeka archiving platform. In this presentation, I will share the current configuration of the collection, describe challenges as it continues to grow, and identify emerging theoretical concerns regarding my curatorial intervention and the archive user’s engagement of the Rose monument as an archeological site and an incorporeal or immaterial theatre space – as a location of living and lost memory, and an archive that will remain after our shared memory of the Rose discovery and preservation must one day be imagined.

Rethinking the Archive (Session 12)

The Parish of St. Mary Aldermanbury, London: Rescuing the first surviving Vestry Book (1569-1609) | Alan H. Nelson

The parish of St Mary Aldermanbury was the home of several individuals with playhouse connections, above all John Heminges and Henry Condell. A neglected source for information about the parish is the much decayed first surviving Vestry Book (1569-1609). Many pages of this document are torn, some paragraphs are seriously faded, and the paper has been attacked in many places by a fungus. Parts of the text are consequently nearly or entirely illegible, and are potentially lost to historians. I have attempted to “rescue” the first Vestry Book by transcribing the entire text to the extent possible, sometimes inferring missing words, including names. In the course of my proposed paper I will explain the digital techniques which have assisted me in recovering the text of this document; discuss choices open to the transcriber; and summarize new information now available to theater (and other) historians.

The March of Fortinbras: A Digital Reconstruction | Thomas Dabbs

Using high resolution, open source images of sixteenth-century maps, this talk will examine an enduring textual and production problem in Hamlet and propose a possible solution.

In the play, just before Hamlet embarks from Denmark to England, Fortinbras of Norway and his army make a quick appearance in Denmark. Fortinbras gives orders to his captain to confirm permission from King Claudius to continue passage through Denmark en route to Poland. This short scene presents multiple problems with dramatic feasibility, not least of which is the fact that when Hamlet sees Fortinbras’ army, he neither knows whose army it is nor does he seem concerned about the presence of a massive military force just outside Elsinore castle.

Modern editions of Hamlet typically include this scene because of its literary value, but directors of Hamlet productions have to decide whether to cut or further diminish Fortinbras’ mostly offstage presence, or else risk staging a strange scene. Indeed, it would be absurd to lead an army from Norway to Poland via modern Denmark in the first place.

However, Abraham Ortelius’ maps show that Denmark’s borders and geophysical positions were quite different in the past. These maps would have been familiar to many in Shakespeare’s audience, and they reveal how members of an Elizabethan audience might have imagined the geographical position of the army of Fortinbras and Hamlet’s perspective of that army. In sum, the Fortinbras scene, odd to us, would have made much more sense to Elizabethan playgoers.

The Theatre in the Archive: Case Studies in Scalable Searching| Pip Willcox

Abstract forthcoming.