‘O brave new world…’: The Future of Open Shakespeare is Open Literature

March 12, 2013 in Community, Musings, News, Releases, Technical

At the start of March 2013, openshakespeare.org went offline. Fear not: it will return in all its full annotating, comparing, analysing, searching, publishing glory soon, as an integral part of this website, where all its data, not least its introductions to individual plays, now lives.

This post will set out the reasons why we decided to make this move, and what our vision is for the project in the months and years ahead.

First, the previous incarnation of Open Shakespeare had several problems, largely invisible to most visitors but extremely frustrating for those of us working behind the scenes.

  • No easy way to upload content such as introductions and essays. This was because we were mixing a pylons back end with a wordpress-powered front end. One of the saddest parts of this situation was that we never managed to get certain introductions live. Now, I’m happy to report that you can read Professor emeritus Hugh Macrae Richmond’s thoughts on Henry VI part 2 for the first time on this website.
  • Open Shakespeare had the potential to be something much bigger than it ever was, as evinced by its sister-project Open Milton, which put Milton’s texts inside the same framework as we were using for Shakespeare. Rather than proliferate parallel projects, it made sense to bring them all together under an ‘Open Literature’ platform: uploading the Milton data is thus one of our next big priorities.

Now from these criticisms comes our vision for Open Literature, an adaptable platform for appreciating literature online. We are creating it with the following principles:

  • Ease of use: many of our Open Shakespeare volunteers, myself included, struggled with the intricacies of the website, the vast majority of Open Literature’s administration can be done through the wordpress interface, whether this is the uploading of texts or the publishing of comments, essays or words of the day.
  • Reuse of existing technology: both the Open Knowledge Foundation and other parter organisations have several projects which overlap with Open Literature: we intend to use Textus to power our annotations here, and we will certainly also be making use of the FinalsClub annotations incorporated into Open Shakespeare through the AnnotateIt system.

So there you have it, the groundings of a website where:

  • Anyone can get involved with little technical knowledge.
  • Literary texts from any authors can be uploaded, annotated, searched and analysed.
  • Quality content about these authors can be made open, available to use, re-use and redistribute.

If you’d like to get involved in setting up this platform, the evolution of all our work on Open Shakespeare, do drop in to the Open Humanities mailing lists, either its general or developer variants.

As Miranda says, “O brave new world / That has such people in’t!”.

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