I’ve had a wonderful time working on Talking in Signs over the last year-and-a-half, but it’s now time for me to take a bow and relinquish the post. I want to take a brief moment to express appreciation for all of the hard work and dedication that has gone on behind the scenes to make The Shakespeare Standard the fantastic resource it is today, and I’m proud to have had an ever-so-small part in that journey. I also want to publicly thank Colleen Kennedy for reaching out when I joined the staff to provide a home for my columns initially under the Global Shakespeares banner. It’s going to be exciting to watch The Shakespeare Standard continue to grow and thrive in the years to come!
In taking leave, I’m making the sole focus of my final post an interesting archive that likewise shuttered its doors some time ago, yet remains (as long as it still stands) both a worthy project and an interesting case study in the way some small digital humanities projects / digital archive projects can remain relevant long after they are still curated or updated.
BardBox was launched by Luke McKernan in 2008, with the aim to “bring together some of the best and most interesting of original Shakespeare-related videos on YouTube, Vimeo and other video hosting sites” (via the BardBox About page). Four years later, in 2012, McKernan shut down BardBox, noting simply “I have said what I want to say.” During its operational years, the site cataloged over 150 videos (via detailed guidelines), as well as providing a nicely curated list of texts and dedicated Shakespeare blogs. Thankfully, McKernan has not abandoned his work, but has remained dedicated to discussions of online films and Shakespeare performances at his main site, which continues to be updated.
I’ll leave it to those who are curious to click through via the above links and browse the archives; McKernan’s collection presents a nice cross-section of more traditional performances, the avant-garde, and sci-fi (an interpretation of Romeo and Juliet using captures from the video game Halo).
What I find so compelling about McKernan’s project at this juncture, however, is his decision to step away because, again, it had “said all [he] wanted to say.” This is a highly intriguing stance to take in the digital age, particularly where an archive is concerned — turning a curated archive, which could conceivably continue to catalog and store new material, into a repository, one which will inevitably (due to the nature of most of the content being hyper-linked from other sites) decay and lose relevance.
Far too often, I think, there’s a tendency to look at digital archives as having a greater sense of permanence than their physical counterparts (if they do indeed have physical homes); by virtue of spreading across the world wide web, they seem almost immortal. Growth seems limitless — set free of temporal concerns such as light, heat, and humidity, digital archives offer the a promise of inclusion and boundless expansion, one archive merging with another almost seamlessly to create a new and more diverse collection, and so on.
The drawback to such projects is that they become increasingly difficult to define, to categorize, to give comprehensible and digestible form to. However, by choosing to look over his work and declare it “finished,” McKernan raises his digital cataloging project to the status of art, an artifact defined by its terminus as much as by its form and content.This very stance both flies in the face of conventional wisdom regarding digital archives — using new technology to preserve artifacts of the past in more complete, accurate, and stable forms — but also serves to remind us of the highly precarious nature of the way bits-n-bytes are collected, stored, and displayed on the internet. The latter point is one that is perhaps altogether too easily forgotten.