Understanding Shakespeare

The Partnership

Understanding Shakespeare

Let's dive into our latest effort – Understanding Shakspeare – in a series of posts, each one dealing with a particular aspect of the project.  In this first post, we’ll look at the project’s genesis and the collaboration with the Folger Shakespeare Library.  In later posts, we’ll walk through the process we used to build the site and look at how we created the data that underlies the site.

This project began with the partnership.  The Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington, DC, is an incredible institution.

A bas relief from the exterior of the Folger Shakespeare Library by sculptor John Gregory (1879-1958)

It houses one of the world’s largest and most important collections of Shakespeare-related materials, including a large number of the earliest printed editions of Shakespeare"s plays.

A First Folio edition of Macbeth, preserved at the Folger.

In addition, they are the publisher of Shakespeare Quarterly, an anchor journal in Shakespeare studies, World Shakespeare Bibliography, a core resource in the field, the Folger Editions, the best-selling critical editions of Shakespeare’s works in North America, and the Folger Digital Texts, openly available electronic versions of those same editions.  Last but by no means least, they connect to a network of scholars and students working in the field.

We first began to speak with the Folger about a possible partnership this past summer.  In those conversations, we crafted an approach that fostered open, exploratory collaboration, focused on innovation. Perhaps this is easier to describe by saying what we didn’t do: we didn’t discuss what services one team could provide for the other.  Nor did we try to specify in great detail from the start what deliverables would be met by each party.

Instead, we discussed what each team could bring to the collaborative table. In Folger’s case, that’s the list two paragraphs back.  On JSTOR’s side, we had the full digital archives of Shakespeare Quarterly (or, SQ) along with 2,000 other journals, and we had a recently-formed Labs team.  Given that set of assets, we discussed what opportunities were most worth exploring.  Together, we settled on the idea of linking – in some way – the primary texts of Shakespeare’s plays with the secondary scholarship of SQ and, ideally, other content in the JSTOR archive.

Those three words “in some way” are important.  When we started this project, we did not know how we would link the plays with the scholarship, either technically or as a user experience. We just knew that we wanted to.  The plan we constructed helped us answer that “how” in a lean and efficient manner, informed by user input and technical exploration.  I’ll describe the details of that plan in the next post.

In the meantime, you can see the outcome of this collaboration at the Understanding Shakespeare site.  We hope that this open and exploratory partnership with Folger is the first of many such partnerships for the Labs team.