Global Shakespeares

Project Team: MIT (and others)
Reviewed By: Alex Pieschel
Review Presentation Date: March 20, 2013
Expertise Required: ??? (Presumably none, but this is not entirely clear)

I found navigating the Global Shakespeares website to be a puzzling experience. The site’s purpose is implied but never explicitly stated. It seems to be a site that aspires to include and tag Shakespeare performances that can be categorized as “international” in some way. I see a lot of problems with the site, and I’m not sure what to make of its intended trajectory.

The About page, full of vague academy-speak, doesn’t really tell me anything. Shakespeare is referred to as a “global author.” The page purports to “nourish the remarkable array of new forms of cultural exchange that the digital age has made possible.” None of this tells me about the site’s specific goals and how it means to achieve them. That said, the site’s goals do appear to be ambitious. Included are videos of full productions from around the world, scripts translated into multiple languages, critical essays, interviews, a bibliography, and a list of theater companies. The About section links to a separate portal, entitled “Shakespeare Performance in Asia,” which appears to have been last updated in 2008. The About section implies that more portals will be provided for other regions, but it is not clear when this is meant to be achieved.

Global Shakespeares’ function appears to be curatorial. The site includes a catalog of videos depicting specific performances with attached metadata, which includes the date of performance, theater company, director, language, and location. The criteria for entry is described as “International performances that are changing how we understand Shakespeare’s plays and the world,” which still leaves me with the following questions: What are the standards for an appropriate or professional performance? Does recording quality play into whether or not a video is included? Could I contribute a production at the University of Alabama recorded on my iPhone? The ambiguity of the site’s curatorial standards might discourage users from contributing. The site needs a clearer mission statement.

Metadata seems to be an important aspect of the project. It’s apparent that the site aspires to present performances with clear contextual descriptions. That said, the Productions tab is full of holes; most of its entries consist of pages that include only metadata and a message that reads “No video is currently available for this production.” The Videos & Clips section contains everything from two-minute film trailers to two-hour live productions with no clear organization to distinguish those categories from one another. This makes for an aesthetically inferior experience. It also makes me think the site’s ambition is not matched by its execution. As is, navigating the site feels like rummaging through pieces of a failed project, and this might not be the case if the blank entries were simply not included, or if the site’s projected goals and timetables were more explicitly stated.

The Glossary page s one of the stranger sections of the site. It consists of a bulleted list of terms, each of which links to a separate page. The definitions of said terms consist of paragraphs copied and pasted from Wikipedia. The definitions are cited as “from Wikipedia,” which invokes the academic convention of quoting and offering citations but also the non-academic convention of citing Wikipedia. The effect is one of weird dissonance. Why is this list of terms even included? Why does each term have to be on its own separate page? If the site is set on using Wikipedia, why aren’t links to Wikipedia pages simply included in the essays whenever the appropriate terms appear?

In addition, Global Shakespeares links its videos through Youtube, which means a collection of related links are included at the end of each video. The problem with this is that the Youtube player is external to the Global Shakespeares site, so that Youtube (as opposed to MIT) is suggesting related videos. Furthermore, if you click on a linked video, the metadata on the site’s page does not change. This feature sort of undermines the entire curatorial purpose of the site, and in class, I was given the impression that this is a feature that can be turned off.

Overall, the site looks professional, but there are several aesthetic details I find jarring at worst, unnecessary at best. In my opinion, it’s pretty tacky to feature “share” buttons prominently on almost every page of the site, especially when those buttons display zero “Tweets” or “Likes.” The “Open Access” descriptor at the top is also unnecessary. Of course it’s open access because we’re talking about Youtube videos and paragraphs from Wikipedia! Essays and interviews are presented in bland, nondescript lists, as are the Glossary and Links pages.

Navigating this site made me wonder if the problem with some DH projects is that they are too collaborative for their own good. The team listed for this site is a large one with many prominent members. If a mission of DH is to facilitate open access to scholarly materials, then what is the point of a bulleted list of Wikipedia paragraphs? Should we consider this scholarship? Parts of the site seem very much scholarly and useful. It’s fantastic to have access, even if the content is not vast, to cut scripts in multiple languages. It is wonderful that I can watch a full link production of Richard III and know that it is performed by an Arab theater company in Athens, Greece.  I guess the main problem with the site is that it is indeed ambitious and apparently unfinished. Another problem is that it almost certainly lacks grant money. As is, Global Shakespeares feels like an exciting project idea that lacks execution, or at least lacks a transparent plan or timetable that would reassure curious, perhaps skeptical, visitors of the site’s value.

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