Oxford 15-18 July 2019

The WordWeb / Intertextuality in Drama of the Early Modern Period was part of the conference highlighting digital explorations of early modern drama, returned to the University of Oxford on 15-18 July 2019. The conference was co-sponsored by the Bodleian Libraries, Oxford, and the Folger Shakespeare Library.

Conference report by Regula Hohl Trillini:

Digitizing the Stage, where I had the privilege of presenting a paper on the WordWeb/IDEMproject, was the best conference experience of my life so far – with apologies to other excellent conferences I have been to! Apart from the atmospheric surroundings of the Bodleian and Weston libraries and Lincoln College Gardens, where the Speaker’s Reception provided champagne and canapés on a sun-dappled lawn in the best English tradition, the research that was presented was mostly of the highest order. The single-stream format with powerpoints uploaded in advance and available to speakers enhanced the thematic coherence and made for truly relevant exchanges in a research community.

The conference was run (for the second time after 2017) by a transatlantic team from the Bodleian (Oxford) and Folger (Washington) libraries, and was about digital projects connected to early modern drama. Several projects had a strong archival bent, presenting digitalization projects such as the Bodleian outreach, the Rose Theatre Archive, a database of 18th-century opera performances on the island of St. Domingue or the fascinating Material Evidence in Incunabula (by Prof. Cristina Dondi, who came to Oxford as an Erasmus student from Milan and never looked back). Others documented performance history and archeology and suggested uses of recorded and live performance in teaching.

A third group presented distant readings enabled by full text databases such as Early English Books Online. These include investigations of paratexts or frequent words in the speech of illegitimately born characters (who tend to obsess about identity and parentage) and my own “Look thee, I speak play scraps”, which introduced a very gracious and interested audience to our collection of shared phrases and motifs in Renaissance. Audience questions and subsequent conversations have really furthered my research. They made my project even more interesting to myself than it was before and alerted me to new aspects, sources and sites that I continue to follow up. Useful standard editions, "user experience" and the need to strive for simplicity and publication before unattainable perfection in a digital product were the main lessons learnt. Our basic concept met with considerable excitement from many listeners.

I also talked to several attendees from Switzerland, including Devani Singh from Geneva and Isabel Karremann (Allen Reddick's successor in Zurich), and am especially looking forward to a closer collaboration with Beatrice Montedoro. After studying in Geneva, Beatrice is currently finishing her Oxford PhD and built (with Laura Estill from Nova Scotia) the database Digital Extracts – a sister database to WordWeb, which collects extracts from plays in 17th-century manuscript collections.

In addition to these very specific stimuli, an excellent introductory workshop on digital project management and the general framework of the conference provided a host of more general insights, including the concept of "agile management", which we heard about in a recent Research Colloquium. My favourites were "Deliver early and often" and "Fail early and often", which inspired our landing page (soon to be launched at www.wordweb.unibas.ch).