First may I apologise profusely for being so late in joining this discussion. Next may I apologise for the formality of my introduction to the group. It has been a strange few months in the history of UK Higher Education and I simply cut and pasted my research in this area into a posting rather than making a proper introduction. However, what that did was to illustrate the fact that I have been thinking and writing on this topic since 1997. I was really not sure what direction the group wanted to go so in a way I am glad I waited before wading in. I have now had a chance to read through everyone else’s thoughts and would really like to take the opportunity to respond to the issues raised.
The one reading I would like to highlight is Katherine Rowe’s Note from the Editor ‘Gentle Numbers’ in Shakespeare and New Media [Special Issue]
Rowe, Katherine (ed.) Shakespeare Quarterly (SQ) 2010 Fall; 61 (3). In this article she says: ‘To decline to reflect critically on, reformulate, and reaffirm the value of our discipline in an electronically networked world is to court irrelevance.’ I absolutely agree but before reading your posts I felt that I had said just about everything I could say on the subject. However, your engaged and thoughtful discussion so far has made me ‘reformulate’ my ideas. I also agree with Rowe when she says; ‘Like a good performance review, digital reviewing captures a dynamic project at a particular moment in time.’ Since I have continued to use digital resources and methods in my teaching and research it must follow that the process of reflection must continue.
While I recognise the general fatigue expressed about discussions about what Digital Humanities is I also think Rowe is right to point out:
Few academics and organisations willingly scrutinize the processes on which we stake so many of our goods and values. Transparency, confidentiality, gatekeeping, resource allocation, institutional reputations for excellence – all inform our vision of ourselves as fair-minded, sound, disinterested critics and inhibit self-reflection.
While I support both Christy Desmet’s and Kathy Rowe’s enthusiasm for crowd sourcing material in theory in practice, like Ellie Rycroft, I have found such experiments time consuming and frustrating. Also I worry about the issue of being overwhelmed by too much material. To paraphrase my own writing on archiving performance just because every comment or view on a performance can be recorded and collected does not mean that it should be. This is an issue that is rather pressing for me at the moment as I am working with several other scholars to set up an online platform to respond to the Globe to Globe Festival that will form part of the World Shakespeare Festival. In opening up this discussion to the entire world what happens if everyone wants to reply?
So I am worried increasingly about what I once heard called ‘function creep’ which I would extent to audience creep and discipline creep. One of the reasons I did not respond earlier is that my institution is in the process of redefining itself through redundancies, in other words changing the face of the University by closing down Departments, in our case Classics, German and Italian, which is a bit of a blow if you teach Shakespeare. I think we are in a very critical moment in Higher Education here and we need to be very clear about what it is we do.
I am also worried about the credit one gets for working on such projects since promotion has not been easy for me and has been based more on the written work I have done describing the digital than the actual creation of digital projects (hence the long list of articles and book chapters). I would warn a scholar just starting out about this seeming lack of respect for digital work. Furthermore while again in theory I have approached my digital practice as if it were theatre in that I am keen to experiment with the technology available at the moment for a particular audience, in practice having my work become obsolete or inaccessible is disheartening. I advocate absolutely the need to work practically in this field in order to theorise about it and put forward the practice based research model of theatre studies as an example, at the same time, I would suggest that combining practice and theory in this area can prove difficult in that I have often been accused of trumpeting my own projects in my writing or lacking objectivity. Given that we are in the middle of a world that is changing very rapidly I think objectivity is rather illusive.
My approach therefore, increasingly, is to gather together collections of people who can speak on a range of issues with some authority to create the equivalent of a research seminar in print. This was the model I used in the two collected editions I co-edited for Cambridge and is the model I will use again in two more volumes I am planning. However, as I mentioned already, the volume that will respond to the Globe to Globe Festival will also be accompanied by an online archive. This hybrid approach is something new and I am quite excited to see how it will work.
Speaking to the comment about what the purpose of online editions might be I would suggest that they should aim to go beyond replicating what can be done in the print format. I was pleased that my notion of a Finder text was noted. The Cambridge King Lear CD-ROM: Text and Performance Archive drew together a range of materials to illustrate the 400 year print and stage history of the play. Using the text as a navigational device rather than as an authoritative edition made it possible to use the central text to highlight changes in practice over time without privileging any one approach or period.
I was very grateful to Ellie Rycroft for making clear that my notion of a ‘commodity driven culture’ being aided by the online world was informed by the very specific pressures we face in the UK. But I would perhaps like to put forward an issue of semantics that may (or may not) be significant. My article was entitled ‘eShakespeare and Performance’ this seminar is called ‘iShakespeare and New Media’. Is the ‘i’ at the beginning of Shakespeare more proprietary than an ‘e’ since the former refers only to Apple Mac products and the latter is a short form for electronic?
Finally, I would like to turn to a couple of anecdotes from my own teaching this year. I have taught the same courses on Shakespeare in Performance for several years. Each year I spend quite a bit of time on YouTube sourcing new material. This year I realised that the online resources are taking up more and more of my lecture time and dominating the direction of the discussion. In fact I am starting to wonder if I have created the very passive and televisual response I feared. By overloading the students with audio visual stimulation am I interfering with their own thinking processes? I was slightly embarrassed when a student asked a question and I was able to instantly respond with an example (one I prepared earlier in response to last year’s group). The student said I was like the Mary Poppins of Shakespeare studies. I am not sure that was a compliment and I am not sure it was ideal pedagogic practice either.
Along the same lines I spoke to a colleague last week who had his USB fail with his Monday morning lecture on it. He said he spent all day Sunday recreating the Powerpoint presentation for the lecture only to arrive in the classroom and discover that the cupboard where the computer was situated was locked and he had to improvise for two hours. If you place his experience and mine side by side I think you can see the dangers of being over prepared and over reliant on the technology. In our excitement to show off what we have learned I am now worried that my attention is being drawn away from my students’ learning processes.
I hope these meandering thoughts in response to what others have said prove useful. I am looking forward to our discussion in Boston too!