By Victoria Pan
For many students, technology and literature exist in two separate spheres, often in opposition to each other. However, for students working on The Nashville Shakespeare Performance Archive, this isn’t the case. For these students, led by Dr. Marcia McDonald, Dr. Joel Overall, and Dr. Jayme Yeo over the past year, technology is a means to preserve and learn from artistry found in Nashville.
These students, separated into five groups, were in charge of video editing, interviews, compiling text, and synthesizing information. The project currently encompasses the Nashville Shakespeare Company’s performance of Comedy of Errors and will also include the Hamlet performance coming in the spring of 2018. Their work divides plays into four sections: directing, songwriting, acting, and costuming. The impressive results of all of their hard work can be found at https://shakespeare.belmont.edu/.
However, all of this was inspired by and made possible with the help of Dr. Laura Estill, editor of the World Shakespeare Bibliography and Associate Professor of English at Texas A&M University. During her keynote speech on April 21, she spoke about what inspired her work. Her focus, she said, is in the digital humanities: an ever-fluid field that studies humanities through digital means and specializes in the ways online sources assist and expand scholarship. Shakespeare, in particular, already was a digital phenomenon before the creation of the World Shakespeare Bibliography, and this is only becoming more and more evident. For Dr. Estill, technology helps to bridge the gap between the then of the Elizabethan era with the now of today.
And how it does – Dr. Estill not only listed archives of scanned original folios and quartos, printed and performed texts, and other Shakespeare document databases, but sites like the Global Shakespeare Video and Performance Archive by MIT, which showcases the universality of Shakespeare. On this site, you can watch a Danish Hamlet, or a Chinese King Lear, inviting questions of cultural translation and interpretation. Another site by Emory University focuses instead on postcards featuring English and American actors who performed Shakespearean plays in the late Victorian and Edwardian eras.
Overall, she emphasized the spirit of collaboration that grows out of these projects . She commented that, while she is lucky enough to study the internationally-acknowledged works of Shakespeare, giving her access to seemingly no end of material, other playwrights are not so lucky. Female playwrights, playwrights of color, or playwrights who were simply overlooked in the shuffle of history unfortunately do not experience this kind of attention, sometimes unjustly. Dr. Estill stressed that while she is by no means discouraging Shakespearean studies – obviously – technology is not infallible, but at least it can be used to question and expand the bounds of the literary canon. One thing is for sure: the work started by the launch of Nashville Shakespeare Performance Archive abounds with potential.
Victoria Pan is a Sophomore BU English Major.