Brett Hirsch’s Questions

Here are my questions for the group:

1. Is an open-source Shakespeare course possible and, if so, what might it look like?

2. How should digital Shakespeare research and pedagogy be assessed and valued?

3. How important is backward compatibility when it comes to producing digital Shakespeare resources?

4. What do students and scholars want from electronic editions?

Best wishes,

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Peter Kuling’s Questions

Posting from Peter Kuling:

1. Do collaborative textual projects or individually edited editions better serve digital humanities scholars and students? Is collaborative digital editing a more productive model for academic innovation with new multimedia editions?

2. What paratextual digital content will new readers of digital Shakespearean eBooks desire in the future? How do we begin to model our scholarship to address unknown digital updates resulting from future technological innovation?

3. Should all extent versions of Shakespearean texts (foul papers, fair papers, bad quartos, good quartos, folios) be integrated into digital editions to allow readers can see revisions, alterations, and deletions in all known manuscripts and printed versions?

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Christie Carson’s Questions

Posting from Christie Carson:

1. Does the use of digital resources in the classroom run the risk of creating passivity in our students as we try increasingly to keep them entertained?

2. Does the new discipline of Digital Humanities break down or minimise the distinctiveness of the individual traditional Humanities disciplines?

3. Does the use of computers in the Humanities inevitably push our research towards the Social Sciences model of measuring quantitative data versus appreciating the qualitative aspects of the subjects we study?

4. Does the World Wide Web actually make the world a smaller and more connected place or does it simply give one the impression of connectivity in an increasingly atomised world?

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Response from Christie Carson

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!

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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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Response from Brett Hirsch

Apologies for the lateness of my post. I’ve only just returned from an extended North American trip to what is being characterized as one of the worst heat-waves Perth has seen in decades. I’ve greatly enjoyed reading the responses so far, and look forward to our meeting in Boston.

Others have offered as many as seven readings. Rather than cover the same ground, I offer two off-list readings:

  • Charles Ess, “Wag the Dog? Online Conferencing and Teaching.” Computers and the Humanities 34 (2000): 297-309.
  • Ian Lancashire, “The Open-Source English Teacher.” Teaching Literature and Language Online, ed. Ian Lancashire. New York: Modern Language Association
    of America, 2009. 410-26.

I chose Charles Ess’s article because it speaks to an abiding concern that I have about digital humanities pedagogy and research. An early proponent of using hypertext and other forms of computer-mediated communication in the humanities classroom, Ess stresses the “importance of not letting the technological tail wag the pedagogical dog” (298; emphasis original). I would extend Ess’s canine metaphor beyond teaching, since an uncritical adoption of new technologies has important implications for humanities research as well.

In The Psychology of Science (1966), Abraham Maslow famously remarked, “It is tempting, if the only tool you have is a hammer, to treat everything as if it were a nail” (15). Almost half a century later, we have a new range of hammers at our disposal, from data mining and visualization to social networking, etc. I needn’t belabour the point, nor do I wish to come across as a reactionary. I introduce Ess’s paper because it reminds us all to temper our enthusiasms, “by keeping in front of us the simple question: as new technologies become available, how can we adopt and adapt them to our prevailing pedagogical [and research] interests and challenges — as one set of tools among many, not as a ‘silver bullet’ that will overcome every challenge we face?” (299; emphasis original).

Another issue close to my heart — and relevant to our discussion — is that of “open source” and “open access” to teaching and research materials, and so I offer Ian Lancashire’s “The Open-Source English Teacher” for consideration. Lancashire begins by describing the “open-source teacher” as someone that “puts instructional materials online, uses decentralized peer review collaboratively to improve their quality, and deposits them under terms and conditions like those in ‘copyleft’ used by software developers”, terms that allow “other teachers to modify and redistribute all modified versions of original materials” provided due acknowledgement is given and the “indelibly free terms of usage are retained” (410).

While Lancashire’s “open-source case study” of teaching a poetry course using Representative Poetry Online — an open-access, peer-reviewed, electronic scholarly edition of some 4,079 poems, from Old English verses by Caedmon to the works of modern authors — is instructive, I would like the group to consider the wider implications of his article. To do so, I propose the following questions for our discussion: Is an open-source Shakespeare course possible and, if so, what would it look like?

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Response from Renuka Gusain

As I noted in my first post in October, my selected readings for this seminar were:

1) Helen Burgess:
New Media in the Academy: Labor and the Production of Knowledge in Scholarly Multimedia

2) Julia Flanders:
“The Productive Unease of 21st-century Digital Scholarship” Digital Humanities Quarterly 3.3 (Summer 2009)
Digital Humanities and the Politics of Scholarly Work

3) Matthew Kirschenbaum. “What is Digital Humanities and What’s it Doing in English Departments?” ADE Bulletin, 150, 2010.

These have already been summarized at length, so I’d like to pick up specific concerns/issues that caught my attention both in these readings as well as the commentaries that have been offered thus far. I do appreciate that these 3 articles (and many similar articles and the recent MLA sessions in Seattle) want to explain what the digital humanities and scholarship are all about, how we are going to negotiate its status in English departments, how to evaluate it, and so on. This is an important conversation to have, but after a point (MLA and post-MLA web-chatter) this conversation becomes, in a word, frustrating. And that, I think, is a good thing, a sort of “productive unease” if you will.

To divide my concerns about our work in the digital humanities into 2 overlapping categories: pedagogy and research–

At a pedagogical level, I would like to see activities and assignments designed to implement teaching and learning in Shakespeare courses (or other courses). Like Valerie, I would like to see some case studies, examples of what people are actually doing. I enjoyed getting a glimpse of the project Sheila and Kevin are working on. I’m also keen on seeing what happens with Ellie’s twitter account. I hope you will all share the kinds of documents your students designed, your evaluation rubric, and other materials emerging from your courses. I have taught literature and writing courses using blogs, wikis, social bookmarking, and all kinds of technologies, using collaborative practices across countries, but I often faced a situation similar to the one Robin faced—students thinking that online medium is a version/reproduction of their paper assignments/texts. I’d very much appreciate if others could share examples and models for teaching a humanities/writing/literature course with technology. If–as Erin reminds us from McLuhan and Fiore’s The Medium is the Massage–the medium is the message and there is a certain tactile experience in dealing with electronic medium, then what kinds of methodologies and critical models emerge from our engagement with the digital humanities that help our students becomes better writers, literary critics, and producers of knowledge? One of the ways that I see the digital humanities as a model for methodological and critical practices is by being more accepting of heuristics—to look at the processes of discovery (not necessarily aim at a preconceived idea of a product, either a text, or an image-text, or and dissertation or book). Theoretically, it sounds fine. But practically, we would have to address the issue of institutional evaluation.

At the level of research—especially as an emerging scholar—I am most concerned about the “value” of engaging with the digital humanities writ large. How will my work on a digital edition of a lesser-known contemporary of Shakespeare, for instance, compare to an article publication in SQ or SEL? (Laurie has addressed this issue at length in her post in reference to Hirsch’s article; Laurie, I found your post to be very helpful) And what about copyright issues and ownership? Like Ellie, I am concerned about open source and its professional ramifications. Questions about research in digital humanities are at a very basic level questions about the appointment/tenure process (and questions about the traditional model of the dissertation).

I found Flanders’ reminder and emphasis on “play” to be useful in addressing some of my concerns:

But it is healthy to remember that the most interesting papers and books we read, in any genre, are those that neither foretell doom nor glory, but give us instead an interesting idea about the world to play with. Methods and tools that combine what has been gained in power and scale with a real measure of scholarly effort and engagement can give us such an idea. But the intellectual outcomes will not be judged by their power or speed, but by the same criteria used in humanities scholarship all along: does it make us think? does it make us keep thinking? (para 27)

The fact that there is an on-going conversation about all of our concerns is a good thing. Perhaps the answers do lie in our constant questioning and reassessing. I like that Peter identified ideas that are key to our discussion: model, medium, expansion, value.  In addition to addressing theoretical concerns, I really hope that we can share some useful, practical methods that can enhance our teaching of early modern texts. I hope we continue to post readings, particularly case studies, on this forum.

Here are some recent articles that have been circulating on the web that I thought some of you might find interesting:

Stanley Fish on the “new order” of digital humanities:

Slideshow of talk delivered by Richard E. Miller (text2cloud) at MLA 2012 on the future of the dissertation.

Rethinking Tenure:

Jeff Rice’s response to Fish:

“The Digital Humanities is not as new as Fish thinks, of course, but as we watch our English colleagues suddenly “doing” Digital Humanities we see that they are putting their hopes (and university funding) in this movement because there is nowhere left to go in a world that has long been digital (while many insist it is not), and a world where reading is dominated by writing.  Typically, though, the Digital Humanities advocates are still stuck in their own paradigm: reading and interpreting texts (scanned literary texts or software studies texts). “

The MLA’s discovery of “digital scholarship”

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