I am the Principal Investigator and Project Director for the NEH-funded London Stage Database, which aims to recover and revitalize the London Stage Information Bank, an early humanities computing project undertaken at Lawrence University in the 1970s. That team created a database of the performance records in The London Stage, 1660-1800 (Southern Illinois University Press, 1960-1968), an 8,000-page, eleven-book reference work that includes information about performances of plays, prologues and epilogues, afterpieces, pantomimes, instrumental music, singing, and dancing in London’s public theaters in the long eighteenth century. Regrettably, the Information Bank — which was created with the support of about $200,000 (the equivalent of roughly $750,000 today) in funding from the National Endowment for the Humanities, the American Council of Learned Societies, the American Philosophical Society, the Andrew Mellon Foundation, the Billy Rose Foundation, and others — fell into technological obsolescence after only a few years, and it has long been thought irretrievably lost. In recent years, our team has begun recovering the Information Bank‘s damaged data and code. With the support of a Digital Humanities Advancement Grant, we are now working to develop a more robust data model, transform the data into preservation formats, and create a web-based interface to allow users to interact with the database or download the raw data for exploratory statistical research. We aim not only to make this rich and important cultural data more accessible to scholars, but also to achieve three broader goals: (1) model best practices for recovering obsolete digital projects; (2) make visible the Information Bank’s underlying assumptions about the nature of data itself, fostering awareness of the theoretical underpinnings of humanities databases used today that were begun in the early decades of humanities computing; and (3) create a platform that can interface with other digitization and data collection projects now underway, enabling the future growth of a network of related databases and tools. An essay about the project’s aims and progress to date appears in Digital Humanities Quarterly (Fall 2017).
The startup phase of the project has involved a multitude of collaborators, including archivists at Lawrence, personnel from the 1970s project team, and research data specialists, library and information studies faculty, and computing staff at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and Utah State University. The implementation phase is being undertaken by myself and two developers from USU’s Merrill-Cazier Library, Todd Hugie (Director of Information Technology) and Dustin Olson (UI / UX Designer). We are also working with a multi-institutional Advisory Board that brings a wide range of expertise in theater studies and digital humanities:
- Scott Enderle, Digital Humanities Specialist, University of Pennsylvania
- Michael Gamer, Associate Professor of English, University of Pennsylvania
- Derek Miller, Associate Professor of English, Harvard University
- Jeffrey Ravel, Professor of History, Massachusetts Institute of Technology
- Doug Reside, Digital Curator, Billy Rose Theatre Division, New York
- Mark Vareschi, Assistant Professor of English, University of Wisconsin-Madison
Additional support for the project is provided by the Merrill-Cazier Library, the Dean’s Office in the College of Humanities and Social Sciences, and the Office of Research and Graduate Studies at USU.