Shakespeare’s archives: context, categories, and the containment of chaos

Christie Carson

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter


Archives of Shakespeare’s text and performance have been greatly enhanced by the advent digital technology. The resources I helped to create (The Cambridge King Lear CD-ROM: Text and Performance Archive (Carson and Bratton, 2000) and Designing Shakespeare: An Audio Visual Database, 1960-2000 (Carson, 2003)) were guided by the desire to make archival material, which previously was closely guarded by libraries and theatre companies, more widely accessible for scholars and students. But as the Internet has become increasingly pervasive and commercial, the pioneering and possibly naïve spirit of this early work has been superseded by large commercial ventures which have once again closed the doors on access. In terms of online archives more generally there seems to be a pull in two opposite directions. The first is towards the personal archive which is entirely subjective and self-interested. It is designed to collect together evidence of the wonderful life of the individual, as directed, designed, constructed and curated by the subject of the archive. At the other end of the spectrum is the digital archive which is designed to be the overriding authority, the great archive of “everything”, “the Cloud”. This second model is compiled by the drawing together of these individual archives with records of business transactions and public life into one enormous database, “Big Data”, so called. The trouble with this two pronged approach to creating a digital database is that neither of these trends are looking to the models that have long been established by actual archivists, librarians or historians. Instead computer scientists and commercial companies are moving this world forward, seemingly entirely unaware and at odds with established ways of working. The first group are primarily interested in how data is collected and then subsequently searched, sorted and reused; the second group are interested only in sifting through the data to get very specific results, usually buying patterns and the details of potential customers. Scholars used to have a role in drawing attention to the processes at work in the creation of archives. I want to question whether we still do.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationThe Shakespearean World
EditorsJill Levenson, Rob Ormsby
Number of pages15
ISBN (Electronic)9781315778341
ISBN (Print)9780415732529
Publication statusPublished - 2017


  • Shakespeare adaptations
  • Shakespeare Archives

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