Open Review: "Shakespeare and New Media"

From the Editor: Gentle Numbers

Katherine Rowe
Guest Editor

1 Leave a comment on paragraph 1 0 It is a gift we cannot afford to refuse.

— N. Katherine Hayles

2 Leave a comment on paragraph 2 0 What happens when the cherished texts of literary scholarship are transformed from paper to digital platforms? Theorizing this transformation, N. Katherine Hayles invokes the resources of translation studies. Literary scholars can best understand the remediation of our cherished objects as a kind of “media translation”; like all translations, this kind is “inevitably also an act of interpretation.”[1]

3 Leave a comment on paragraph 3 0 Many insights thread through this quiet claim, with its appeal to our curiosity and its reminder of what we care about — interpretation — in an environment that may seem alienating, once we move out of our technological comfort zones. Older forms and values provide a vital intellectual framework for the way we use newer media. Indeed, older forms shape the needs we bring to new tools and the opportunities we find in them. Hayles’ trenchant point is that the converse is also true. Approaches that draw upon our experiences in comparative media studies can enrich our understanding of both old and new media:

4 Leave a comment on paragraph 4 0 The challenge is to specify, rigorously and precisely, what these gains and losses entail and especially what they reveal about presuppositions underlying reading and writing. … The advent of electronic textuality presents us with an unparalleled opportunity to reformulate fundamental ideas about texts and, in the process, to see print as well as electronic texts with fresh eyes. For theory, this is the “something gained” that media translation can offer. It is a gift we cannot afford to refuse (89-90).

5 Leave a comment on paragraph 5 0 To refuse to reflect critically on, reformulate, and reaffirm the value of our discipline in an electronically networked world is to court irrelevance.

6 Leave a comment on paragraph 6 0 The scholars and critics in this issue share Hayles’ judicious agnosticism towards change. The diverse Shakespeare projects they explore and analyze likewise engage technological change in the spirit of experiment before evaluation. Their essays invite us to look not only at familiar literary works but also at some familiar methodological assumptions with fresh eyes.

7 Leave a comment on paragraph 7 0 In “Networks of Deep Impression,” Alan Galey identifies an ambient “computing essentialism” that literary scholars can correct by bringing our historiographic skills to bear on our digital tools. In this mode he illuminates the role of Shakespeare in the cultural history of “information” since World War II. Kate Rumbold pursues a cultural history of our remediated present, in “From ‘Access’ to ‘Creativity,’” analyzing the online paratexts of four UK heritage institutions: the Royal Shakespeare Company, Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre, Shakespeare’s Birthplace Trust, and the British Library. A broader question inspires both essays: how do academic Shakespeareans and Shakespeare institutions behave just like everyone else on the web?

8 Leave a comment on paragraph 8 0 Whether we ourselves blog, vlog, tweet, or don’t, our classrooms convene a generation of born-digital students. In “Unmooring Othello,” Ayanna Thompson explores student adaptations of Shakespeare on YouTube, focusing on performances of race. She asks what obligations we incur as teachers and scholars when the products of our classrooms circulate in these rich, unstable, interactive social-networking platforms.

9 Leave a comment on paragraph 9 0 Taking their title from Mistress Ford’s trenchant critique of Falstaff’s love letters, Jonathan Hope and Michael Witmore introduce the practice of “iterative reading” in “The Hundredth Psalm to the Tune of ‘Green Sleeves.’” By turns droll and technical, they demonstrate the use of “hand-curated” digital tagging tools, interweaving statistical analysis with hermeneutic approaches to Shakespeare’s genres.

10 Leave a comment on paragraph 10 0 With a few exceptions, traditional humanities journals seldom review online resources. Two major reviews in this issue redress this lack, providing critical guidance for students, teachers, and scholars as they navigate the increasingly populous world of digital Shakespeare. In “Disciplining the Digital Humanities, 2010,” Whitney Trettien scrutinizes five important websites, from university-funded archives to Bardbox, a blog-based gallery of original Shakespeare videos. She casts an experienced digital humanist’s eye on their contents and platforms, how their data are structured, and how we navigate and use them.[2] Andrew Murphy, in “Shakespeare Goes Digital,” reviews three online editions of Shakespeare’s works, situating their open-access missions within a longstanding tradition of editing Shakespeare “for the people.”

11 Leave a comment on paragraph 11 0 Like a good performance review, digital reviewing captures a dynamic project at a particular moment in time. Thus it is fitting to close this special issue with Christian Billing’s nuanced account of the Toneelgroep Amsterdam’s London production of The Roman Tragedies, November 2009. Working with a richly multi-mediated stage (live and recorded video, internet) and a lean vernacular translation of the three plays, the production offered a sustained meditation on modern political theater and the tools with which it is enacted.

12 Leave a comment on paragraph 12 0 In the long run, the media translations likely to matter most to Shakespeareans will be those involving our scholarly practices — how we communicate with each other and how we publish new research in the open environments of the web. As Renaissance scholars know, the modern sense of “peer” as one member in a civil community of equals emerged in seventeenth-century scientific culture, along with the modern referee system.[3] Yet the study of “evaluative cultures” in academia is a relatively recent phenomenon.[4] Few academics and organizations willingly scrutinize the processes on which we stake so many of our goods and values. Transparency, confidentiality, gatekeeping, resource-allocation, institutional reputations for excellence — all inform our vision of ourselves as fair-minded, sound, disinterested critics and inhibit self-reflection.

13 Leave a comment on paragraph 13 0 The Board of Shakespeare Quarterly saw in this issue an opportunity to look with fresh eyes not only at our texts and tools, but also at the journal’s review processes. After researching different modes of digital publication, consulting the small but rich field of scholarship on peer review, and seeking advice from the journal’s publisher, the editors and production team determined to experiment with a partially open review for the Shakespeare and New Media issue. To our knowledge, Shakespeare Quarterly’s open review is the first venture of this kind by a traditional humanities journal — though open and hybrid review are better known in the sciences and in new media studies.[5]

14 Leave a comment on paragraph 14 0 Traditionally, submissions to SQ undergo three review phases: an initial screening by the editors, external reviews by experts selected by the Editor, and a final publication decision by the Editor. We adjusted those phases in this model. An expert reviewer (the guest editor) joined the first stage. For those essays passed on to the second stage, we offered the option of open vetting followed by a period of revision. We agreed that only posted comments would affect the publication decision and that the final decision would be based on the revised versions. As in the traditional process, that decision rested with the Editor — hence the label “partially open”, by contrast to review models where authority is fully distributed, in the mode of the open web.

15 Leave a comment on paragraph 15 0 Running from 10 March to 5 May 2010, the experiment drew a self-selected community of Shakespeareans with expertise in media history. The process is archived at MediaCommons Press, http://mcpress.media-commons.org/ShakespeareQuarterly_NewMedia/, an open scholarship venture that generously provided expertise and hosting. Forty-one participants (including the submitters, Editor and guest editor) posted more than 350 comments, making for a lively exchange. The journal’s open review pages on MediaCommons were accessed over 9,500 times.[6] Commenters self-identified; a majority were those at tenured rank. Their comments addressed stylistic, historical and theoretical matters, and ranged from passing responses to sustained engagement and challenge. Authorial revisions in response to these comments were meticulous and in several instances very substantial.

16 Leave a comment on paragraph 16 0 This experiment illuminated SQ’s culture of evaluation in a number of ways.

17 Leave a comment on paragraph 17 0 Open reviewing brings to front and center the question of who is an expert and how those experts are accredited. We circulated announcements among Shakespeareans with expertise in newer media, inviting them to referee. About half of those who committed in advance actively participated (a relatively high participation rate for an opt-in process online). That said, any reader who chose to comment was welcomed. Neither our worst fears of a self-selected refereeing pool (anti-Stratfordians spamming the site?) nor our most ambitious hopes (a venue in which savvy graduate students might opine as freely as senior scholars?) were fulfilled. Instead, we saw more modest shifts in the reviewing population. Along with a core of well-known Shakespeare and media scholars, critics from related fields took note and weighed in thoughtfully, including digital humanities experts. These voices provided an interdisciplinary range and perspective not available in a traditional SQ review.

18 Leave a comment on paragraph 18 0 In public reviewing, the demands of performing substantive but collegial critiques are high. Where the rhetorical occasion of a traditional SQ review is one-to-one (reviewer to Editor or reviewer to author), the rhetorical occasion on the web is many-to-many. Online reviewers may experience a print version of what Michael Wesch has called “context collapse.”[7] In this venue, the privilege of being a known, select voice diminishes. The obligation to prove ones case through public give-and-take with other reviewers and authors rises. Moreover, for some Shakespeareans, writing reviews with “someone looking over my shoulder” was nerve-wracking and inhibiting, making total frankness impossible. Others, as we discovered, refuse to review anonymously in principle; these saw no challenges to frank assessment. In our view the majority, somewhere between these poles, achieved a successful balance.

19 Leave a comment on paragraph 19 0 The give-and-take of an open process is more labor-intensive than a traditional process but that labor can bring real benefits. As Kathleen Fitzpatrick observes, we currently have no way to reward the crucial labor of peer reviewing.[8] An open format makes visible the substantial impact reviewers may have in improving the quality of scholarship in our field. What other gains accrue to all this work? First, the opportunity for substantive exchange between authors and reviewers can help distinguish scholarly dead-ends from open arenas of inquiry, particularly in a new field. A handful of long threads emerged around and across the essays, for example, foregrounding key issues for Shakespeareans working in new media. (See for example a five-way debate that unfolded in the interstices of the Murphy review and the Galey and Hope/Witmore essays, considering the suitability of the Moby Shakespeare for scholarly research.) Second, an open format provides editors and authors with a fuller perspective on the reviews themselves. Patterns of commentary make it easy to distinguish shared concerns from the idiosyncratic reactions of a single scholar. Conversely, it can be especially clear in this mode when a group of commentators trundle off track — giving authors and editors a better sense of which criticisms to take on board.

20 Leave a comment on paragraph 20 0 Thoughtful demonstration of expertise, collegial colloquy and debate are the common currency of peer reviewing, whether it takes place in an open forum or a closed grant panel.[9] For SQ, a period of open review seems well matched with a focus on a special topic. Traditionally, special issues at the journal are curated, showcasing the work of senior scholars. This experiment suggests a different model: beginning with an open call and then shaped in part by the deliberations of a dedicated intellectual community. A single experiment cannot ground strong conclusions, but it is notable that this issue features both work by junior scholars and work that pushes the methodological boundaries of our field quite far.

21 Leave a comment on paragraph 21 0 All technologies lag behind some needs, even as they answer others. On the digital side: it quickly became clear that all participants saw the open review as a kind of publication in one key respect: they brought the same high standards of precision to their writing. They were frustrated by the platform’s unfriendliness to small corrections and their inability to revise earlier comments as they continued reading. For authors, leaving a permanent warty record of work-in-progress (including work that might be published elsewhere, if it were not included in the issue) felt daunting. Conversely, the volume of comments was demanding in itself. The end of the review window and the opportunity to return to the fixedness of non-dynamic print came as a surprising relief. On the paper side: we hoped to record between these covers some dialogic qualities of the open review. Readers offered brilliant suggestions as to how register the important contributions of reviewers. Yet the cost of the extra signatures we would need even to sample that expansiveness proved prohibitive.

22 Leave a comment on paragraph 22 0 Please explore the submissions and comments archived at MediaCommons. Though the period for comments is now over, the general comments space remains open for further posting as our thinking as a field evolves. New media offer us opportunities for openness in process and product — crowd-sourced resources, peer-to-peer commentary, interactive publication — that we need to respond to in considered ways. Engagement with the openness of the web was a crucial part of the process of this issue, which bears its traces in the final shape of the contributions. What is needed next?

23 Leave a comment on paragraph 23 0 With varying degrees of enthusiasm, caution, frustration, patience, grumpiness, humor, self-possession and self-consciousness several dozen scholars generously committed their time and insight to this issue. The expert advice and support tendered by the MediaCommons team were invaluable. We are well studied for a liberal thanks, which we do owe you.

  • [1] N. Katherine Hayles, My Mother Was a Computer: Digital Subjects and Literary Texts (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2005) 89-90.
  • [2] This list of tasks paraphrases Julia Flanders, editor in chief of Digital Humanities Quarterly, herself paraphrased in Jennifer Howard, “Hot Type: No Reviews of Digital Scholarship = No Respect”, The Chronicle of Higher Education, May 23, 2010.
  • [3] Kathleen Fitzpatrick, Planned Obsolescence: Publishing, Technology, and the Future of the Academy, “the history of peer review,” accessed June 7, 2010. See also Steven Shapin, A Social History of Truth: Civility and Science in Seventeenth-Century England (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1994). Harriet Zuckerman and Robert K. Merton seem to have been the first to trace this history forward to modern refereeing systems in “Patterns of Evaluation in Science: Institutionalization, Structure and Functions of the Referee System.” Minerva 9:1 (January) 1971, 66-100.
  • [4] The phrase is Michèle Lamont’s, from How Professors Think: Inside the Curious World of Academic Judgment (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2009).
  • [5] Fitzpatrick, Planned Obsolescence, “the future of peer review,” accessed June 7, 2010. This book provided our open-reviewing model, pioneered at MediaCommonsPress.
  • [6] Google Analytics reports show “pages in the /ShakespeareQuarterly_NewMedia/ directory received a total of 9550 pageviews over the course of 6195 unique visits. 5175 of those pageviews came in directly (probably by typing in the URL or clicking a link in an email or on Twitter), 2208 came from Google searches, and 536 from a link on the Folger website.” Fitzpatrick, personal email, June 9, 2010.
  • [7] Michael Wesch, “YouTube and You: Experiences of Self-Awareness in the Context Collapse of the Recording Webcam.” Explorations in Media Ecology {EME} 8:2 (2009), 19–34.
  • [8] Fitzpatrick, Planned Obsolescence, “credentialing,” accessed June 7, 2010.
  • [9] Lamont, Chapter 1, “Opening the Black Box of Peer Review.” As reviewers adapted to the MediaCommons site, they gravitated towards protocols Lamont observes in grant panelists. As she summarizes them: reviewers develop “shared rules of deliberation” (6). Within the external framework established for evaluation they establish “a sense of shared criteria as the deliberations proceed, and they self-correct in dialogue” (6). In group reviewing dynamics, “debating plays a crucial role in creating trust… a dialogue that leaves room for discretion, uncertainty, and the weighing of a range of factors and competing forms of excellence. It also leaves room for flexibility and for groups to develop their own shared sense of what defines excellence — that is, their own group style, including speech norms and implicit group boundaries” (7). Lamont’s observations help explain why named reviewing was crucial for this open process: “Personal authority … is constructed by the group as a medium for expertise and as a ground for trust in the quality of decisions made” (7). A footnote to this section brings us full circle, to Shapin’s study cited above.
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    Source: http://mcpress.media-commons.org/ShakespeareQuarterly_NewMedia/from-the-editor-gentle-numbers/