Shakespeare in Bits and Bytes: The Victorian Illustrated Shakespeare Archive

Two years ago, at the inaugural Digital Humanities Congress in Sheffield, I presented a paper that explored the first phase of my research into the creation of The Victorian illustrated Shakespeare Archive. This initial phase focussed on the curatorial aspect of the project and the paper I gave at the Congress investigated certain implications and problems a scholar faces when creating a digital archive. Now that the archive is complete, the opportunity to return to Sheffield and give a practical demonstration of the archive and the methodology behind it is hugely exciting.

The archive is centred on the four major Victorian illustrated editions of Shakespeare's Complete Works. These editions, which were hugely popular in the Victorian era, are a very important part of our cultural heritage and, indeed, our construction of Shakespeare's plays as we understand them today. However, these editions are only ever available to scholars in academic libraries. My archive, then, makes available online over 3000 of these illustrations in an open-access database called the Victorian Illustrated Shakespeare Archive. This archive will be available online at 'ShakepseareIllustration.com' and will allow researchers and members of the public to explore a rich image archive and to ask new questions about this material: for example, 'how did the Victorians portray certain characters and plays pictorially and does this portrayal differ throughout the Victorian era?'

Alongside such questions, the archive, more broadly, allows users to explore and interrogate the complex relationship that exists between the page and the stage and between word and image. Underpinning the project is my strong belief that an online academic resource can be both scholarly rigorous and user-friendly. Further, the archive uses social networking to enable a community of users to discuss the images and to collaborate in exciting new and unforeseen ways.