I am the Principal Investigator and Project Director for the NEH-funded London Stage Database, which recovers and revitalizes 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, my team recovered much of the Information Bank‘s damaged data and code. An essay about the early history and startup phase of the project appears in Digital Humanities Quarterly (Fall 2017). With the support of a 2018-19 Advancement Grant from the NEH Office of Digital Humanities, we have been able to develop a more robust data model, transform the data into preservation formats, and create a web-based interface to allow users to search the database or download the full dataset for exploratory statistical research. For an example of the kind of analysis now possible, see this recent Economist article using the London Stage Database to trace trends in the performance of Shakespeare over time.
With this site, we have tried not only to make this rich and important cultural data more easily accessible, 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. .
The early stages of the project 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 was undertaken by myself and two developers from USU’s Merrill-Cazier Library, Todd Hugie (Director of Information Technology) and Dustin Olson (UI / UX Designer). Emma Hallock served as an Honors Undergraduate Research Assistant on the project in 2018. We also worked with a multi-institutional Advisory Board representing a wide range of expertise in theater studies and digital humanities:
- Scott Enderle, Digital Humanities Specialist, University of Pennsylvania
- Michael Gamer, Professor of English, University of Pennsylvania
- Lauren Liebe, Doctoral Candidate, Texas A & M University
- Derek Miller, John J. Loeb Associate Professor of the Humanities, Harvard University
- Jeffrey S. Ravel, Professor and Head of History, Massachusetts Institute of Technology
- Doug Reside, Curator, Billy Rose Theatre Division, New York
- Mark Vareschi, Associate Professor of English, University of Wisconsin-Madison
Additional support for the project was provided by the Merrill-Cazier Library, the Dean’s Office in the College of Humanities and Social Sciences, the Office of Research and Graduate Studies, and the Department of English at USU, as well as the College of Arts and Sciences at the University of Oregon.