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REED London: Humanistic Roots, Humanistic Futures at MLA 2017

Posted in Digital Humanities

This is the transcript of a paper I gave as part of the “Digital Scholarship in Action: Research” panel at CSRS (Canadian Society for Renaissance Studies) in Philadelphia on January 6, 2017. The attendant PowerPoint is stored and indexed on the MLA Commons Open Repository Exchange, and is available here:

“REED London: Humanistic Roots, Humanistic Futures”

In November of this past year the executive board of the Records of Early English Drama approved my proposal to develop a new large-scale, long-range collaborative endeavour called REED London. The reason why I think that this nascent project offers a valuable perspective in talking about how we keep the “H” in DH is because the project is to its very bones a HUMANITIES project that can only exist in a DIGITAL realm. We, as pre-modern performance and theatre historians, are using digital methods to aggregate its materials, access and analyze a remarkably broad array of archival documents, and amplify their importance to a broader spectrum of humanities scholars and potential collaborators than we cannot have been able to do through more traditional means.

REED London develops from the Records of Early English Drama, an international scholarly project that has for the last thirty-five years worked to locate, transcribe, and edit historical documents that contain evidence of drama, secular music, and other communal entertainment and ceremony in England, Wales, and Scotland from the Middle Ages until 1642, when the Puritans closed the London theatres. REED has published twenty-seven collections of records in print comprising 36 volumes – over 17,000 pages of transcribed records plus invaluable contextual materials. A further 25 collections are planned or in progress.

Since 2003, REED has recognized the importance of developing online access to archival materials as well as the creation of new born-digital resources: these include the Patrons and Performances website, the Early Modern London Theatre database, the Fortune Theatre Records digital edition, the Anglo-Latin Wordbook as well as fully searchable, open access digital editions of all of those forthcoming REED collections launching in early 2017 with Staffordshire’s dramatic records.[1. Since this paper was presented, REED Online has launched the Staffordshire collection.]

REED London Corpus

REED London therefore establishes for the first time a comprehensive resource of documentary materials referring and related to London-centric performance, theatre, and music spanning the period 1100-1650. REED London’s goal is to bring together London-centric print “legacy” collections, with existing online resources, in-progress digital editions, and pave the way for new collections and remixing the ways in which scholars and students engage with the editorial and archival materials. Archival and bibliographical records and editorial contextual materials are compiled from:

  • Existing print published editions (Civic London to 1558, Ecclesiastical London, Inns of Court)
  • Collections in progress (Surrey including Southwark, Middlesex)
  • Existing online resources (Early Modern London Theatres database, Patrons and Performances website)
  • Online resources and collections in development (Professional theatre records, Civic London 1559-1642)

… as well as references to London performances from REED provincial print collections.

What is a Record?

These materials are transcribed texts and excerpts from secular and ecclesiastical legal proceedings, parish church records, London Corporation and guild company minutes and accounts, household accounts, playscripts, costume and property inventories, and correspondence.

Project Objectives

* Establish stable, extensible item model that anticipates as many types of records as possible
* Draw records from already print-published collections, already online resources, in-progress collections, and in-design/in-development projects
* Associate metadata and editorial material with individual records, supporting intersections among records
* Accommodate descriptive and semantic markup

Scholarly Output

* Machine-readable, fully-searchable record texts
* Re/presentation of all scholarly editorial materials written by REED editors specifically for the REED collections, editions, and projects
* Prosopography of all identifiable people in the records
* Complete geocoded gazetteer of all identifiable places in the records
* Authority list of organizations and offices
* Comprehensive list of all archival documents referred to, pages or leaves consulted, and their current locations/availability in archives and libraries

It cannot be understated that the creation of REED London brings a crucial new scholarly and pedagogical focus to our work from a much broader audience in pre-modern studies. The nature of the records – legal, ecclesiastical, civic, political, personal – means that the project offers profound resources for our colleagues beyond performance history. One colleague has already expressed interest in using the REED London record texts to undertake a never-before possible corpus linguistics dialect analysis of the English language from medieval times.

At the same time, the records as extracted from contemporary documents offer an unusual opportunity for new scholars to return to the archives to capture what REED has had to forego because of editorial time constraints. If properly negotiated, the REED London record sets will establish a hub from which other research projects can grow, potentially augmenting our records with others from the same documents that involve other scholarly foci, thereby encouraging a much larger interdisciplinary research platform involving as yet unidentified colleagues.