February 05, 2018, BY Beth Kaszuba

Scholars around the world will gain better access to a treasure trove of pre-Shakespearean documents related to London theatre and music thanks in part to the scholarship of Bucknell students and faculty, with the support of a $99,000 grant from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

The grant supports the REED London project, part of a 40-year-long research initiative that seeks to change perceptions of theatre and performance before Shakespeare. Bucknell will serve as the grant's host institution, and students will participate as research assistants working closely with faculty advisers.

According to Diane Jakacki, digital scholarship coordinator and faculty teaching associate in comparative humanities, the funding will enable the project to compile and publish thousands of performance-related archival materials that span 500 years of London history. Jakacki, who serves as the project's principal investigator, said the materials include playscripts, legal and religious records, and personal and diplomatic correspondence.

"This incredible resource cannot be contained in traditional printed collections, because the scope of the material is too vast," Jakacki explained. "Publishing online helps us to bring the full collection to a much larger audience of scholars, and to bring it more effectively into the classroom."

She added, "We're not just converting the archival material to electronic media formats. We're asking how we can make the data more robust, and reach more researchers who can use it creatively within their own disciplines."

Rich Opportunities to Get Involved
Bucknell also engages students and faculty in digital scholarship through the University's Digital Scholarship Center, which was established with a separate Mellon Foundation grant. For example, under the direction of faculty and staff, students have used digital scholarship to research the ways in which changing communication technologies have impacted film narratives; explored the history of sugar mills on the island of Antigua; and collected and digitized materials in the worldwide Moravian Church archives. Another Mellon Foundation grant, awarded in 2016, supports faculty-student collaborations on digital scholarship projects in the humanities

The latest grant is one of eight awarded to projects under a new collaboration between the Mellon Foundation and the National Historical Publications and Records Commission. This grant program focuses on different ways to make the work of textual scholars across the humanities more accessible through new forms of collaborative editing and publication, with the goal of creating new standards for online publication.

"The archived documents can help us discover who was actually involved in performance during this period — not just playwrights and actors, but members of the aristocracy, politicians, priests, lawyers, and everyday business men and women," Jakacki said. "It opens up a new window onto London society as it grew through the Middle Ages into the early modern period."

Along with faculty and students at Bucknell, the research team includes scholars from the University of Toronto, the University of Guelph, King's College London, University College London, Newcastle University, the University of Pennsylvania, Lafayette College and Ithaca College.

"What is really exciting," Jakacki added, "is that the project will involve Bucknell students, and our faculty will discover new ways to think about their own digital scholarship."