Response from Christy Desmet


  • Carson, Christie. “eShakespeare and Performance.” Shakespeare 4.3 (September 2008): 270-86.
  • Desmet, Christy. “Paying Attention in Shakespeare Parody: From Tom Stoppard to YouTube.” Shakespeare Survey 61 (2008): 227-38.
  • Erlich, Jeremy. “Back to Basics: Electronic Pedagogy from the (Virtual) Ground Up.” Shakespeare 4.3 (September 2008): 287-99.
  • Rumbold, Kate. “From ‘Access’ to ‘Creativity’: Shakespeare Institutions, New Media, and the Language of Cultural Value.” Shakespeare Quarterly 61.3 (Fall 2010): 313-336.
  • Smith, Martha Nell. “Computing, Research, & Teaching: A Humanities Trifecta!” Liberal Education 90.4 (Fall 2004): 14-23.
  • Stallybrass, Peter. “Against Thinking.” PMLA 122.5 (October 2007): 1580-87.
  • Unsworth, John. “Scholarly Primitives.” Transcript of a presentation. 13 May, 2000.
  • XMAS. Cross Media Annotation System.

My responses are to some readings on the list and several that are off-list. In her excellent essay on funding for the arts and scholarship related to Shakespeare in the UK, Kate Rumbold outlines, albeit indirectly, the ways in which Digital Humanities are imbricated in current cultural politics. Institutions such as the British Library make available to the public free of charge important and rare materials such as the library’s copies of Shakespeare’s quartos. Curatorial decisions increase the general public’s ability to see rare scholarly materials, but conversely, may paradoxically reduce access to the original artifacts (“But the X is digitized and freely available online”). At the same time, institutions receiving and seeking public monies are encouraged to direct their energies toward the “public”’s interest and enlightenment. Thus, the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust emphasizes that visitors becomes creators, not merely consumers of Shakespeare as cultural icon. Christie Carson’s essay also examines the politics of scholarly outreach with regard to digitized performance archives and institutional prestige.

I start with Kate’s essay because it sets up an expanded “public” as the audience for Shakespeare-related sites of all kinds. Peter Stallybrass’s “Against Thinking” and Martha Nell Smith’s “Computer, Research, & Teaching” also envision an audience beyond the academy for the more scholarly side of Shakespeare 2.0. Here is Stallybrass on the power structures oftextual research with digital archives:

If database has been an incitement to the use of archive, it has changed our relation to the ownership of knowledge. One of the most radical aspects of database is its power to separate knowledge from academic pres­tige and from its attendant regime of intel­lectual property. Scholarship, as traditionally conceived, has maintained its prestige partly through its privileged relation to the protec­tion and retrieval of scarce resources. Now, however, millions of people who cannot or do not want to go to the archives are accessing them in digital form. And digital information has profoundly undermined an academic elite’s control over the circulation of knowledge. (1581)

And here is Smith, talking about how her collaborators in the project of a digital edition for Susan Dickinson’s letters corrected a crucial misreading of a digitized manuscript by Smith herself as lead editor:

Had we not been producing this edition in multimedia that enables access to primary evidence for the many rather than the few, had we not be [sic] collaborating with one another, and had those technologies not in turn created a climate making us much more highly self-conscious about the new materialities of editing in which we were engaged, a solitary authoritative view, however erroneous, would likely have prevailed in this little corner of literary history. (23)

As a pedagogical principle, Stallybrass explicitly recommends that we stop asking students to “think” – to have so-called original ideas – and to give them instead the tools that will allow them to be scholarly collaborators; this pleasure in collaboration is implicit as well in Smith’s memoir. Jeremy Erlich, furthermore, praises the ability of Web 2.0 technologies to create virtual communities crowd-sourcing the research of multiple students at dispersed locations. Christie Carson’s essay also addresses the potential of mediated performance to link local and global audiences.

We are agreed on the potential of Web 2.0 to cultivate community, but what to do with these new sources of intellectual “inventory”? What is needed at this point, I would think, is a conceptual pedagogy for making use of emerging inventories that provide opportunities for amateur, collaborative, and student scholarship. I was introduced to John Unsworth’s somewhat inchoate piece on scholarly primitives in Kathy Rowe’s 2010 SAA seminar on Shakespeare 2.0, and it seems that the notion of primitives provides a useful lens for pedagogical practice that would take us some distance toward realizing the project of cultivating not only virtual communities, but within those communities, critical habits of mind – a point raised by Martin Mueller (304).

Some of the primitives have been identified by various essays as being particularly congenial to Web 2.0 environments. Erlich, for instance, notes the usefulness of the wiki for textannotation (291); and Carson points to the ability of MIT’s XMAS program to annotate film, as well. Other primitives that seem to manifest themselves regularly in the database/artifact-narrative structure of Web 2.0 applications are sampling (e.g., search functions) and comparing (it’s everywhere). In effect, we are compiling a kind of digital “common topics,” in the Aristotelian sense of that term. Aristotle’s topics are schemas that can be applied to extant discourse or deployed in the creation of oratory; thus, the primitives currently offer directions for using Web 2.0 scholarly tools but could, by extension, offer common topics for creation as well as analysis, which is totally appropriate to the conflation of the creative/critical functions in Web 2.0.

If we focus on the complementary rhetorics of scholarship and performance in Web 2.0 environments, we could make some useful connections between the idea of an (expanded) creative public as the audience for performance and its paratexts and an (expanded) scholarly public as the audience for digital archives. Analyzing and practicing the rhetoric of performance/critique in both domains might help us use these tools in intellectually responsible ways while still tapping into the irreverent joy that suffuses amateur Shakespearean performance in places such as YouTube (Desmet). To this extent, I would be advocating for considering the database of amateur Shakespearean videos on sites such as YouTube with the same concentrated scholarly attention that Christie rightly assigns to the performance videos curated in her and other databases.

YouTube, in particular, shows in its examples of teen-culture Shakespeare a collective desire for not only self-display through publication, but often critical acumen. A series of single-author “Hamlet met Ophelia” videos based on remixed footage from the 1996 Branagh film floated over different pop-music soundtracks, elicits from commenters critical questions, such as “Why is Ophelia crying all the time?” or “I don’t know the story—what happens to Ophelia at the end?” And the amateur filmmaker (in Laurence Lessig’s sense of being intrinsically motived) responds with answers gleaned largely, it seems, from her secondary-school English class, even though the videos themselves are self-sponsored. I know that everyone does not share my sense that the less regulated, even sillier spaces of Shakespeare production available on YouTube and elsewhere are particularly worthy of our attention as scholars, but I think a common rhetoric links them to the more sedate critical operations we perceive as possible with other, more familiar tools. Cultivating that rhetoric might be one way to make the “wisdom of the crowd” at once critical and performative. Would it be too much to think of a common rhetoric of creative and scholarly common topics/ primitives that enriches both the classroom and the extra-curricular realm of amateur Web 2.0 art?

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