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Response to Review of Early Modern London Theatres

As readers will appreciate, the construction of this website had a number of overlapping phases. The original goal was to make publicly searchable a bibliography hitherto available only in ENDNOTE format to Records of Early English Drama (REED) editors. This meant that the editing, checking and academic development of data continued through the 3.5 years of the project. Surprisingly, this might involve excision as well as addition: for example, a number of transcriptions by one early eminent scholar had to be set aside since it was not evident that he had directly consulted the documents when making them.

However, what began life as a bibliography took on a different character as the full scope for electronically linking its elements became clear: one pre-1642 document could appear in a number of post-1642 secondary documents, and one secondary document might make use of numerous pre-1642 primary sources. Since the focus of this resource is upon the longue durĂ©e of the primary documents in subsequent usage, rather than simply on the events to which they refer, innovative work was required to construct the bibliography as an electronic database, even before one could establish the specific fields which users might want to search. Planning and constructing the database with those search functions then continued throughout the project, and the final result constitutes the principal value of the resource. In the last year, however, the team decided to increase the website’s interactivity (within reason) and its educational value – hence the Learning Zone. This involved enlarging the project team, developing educational materials, deciding how they might be best presented, and showing how they relate to the data in the database.

The final phase of the work involved responding to user tests. Some of this preceded the official launch, but some has taken place over the last two months, and as luck would have it contemporaneously with Dr Kathman’s review. We hope that he and other users will now find EMLoT’s interface far more intuitive, and that users will now have to do less work to get the full benefit from the resource. In particular, the search mechanism originally known as the Faceted search has now been re-named a Browse search, a term with which users will be more familiar. The filters to permit purposeful browsing have been relocated and the total data items available to be filtered in a specific search are immediately available on the front page of the search. These two features should make the nature of a Browse search and the function of the filters more evident. The pages to which a Browse search then takes the user have been reorganised to make the links between different datasets more easily grasped at a glance, to make navigation forward and back through the records easier and the user’s route more traceable.

In his third paragraph Dr Kathman raises and correctly explains the apparent fuzziness of EMLoT’s including material relevant to the Bankside while claiming to be a version dedicated to the eight theatres north of the Thames. It is indeed the case that such material is only there because the documents which include it also include data relevant to EMLoT’s current focus. Hopefully, funding and personnel will become available to carry this website through to its conclusion by adding the Bankside theatres and at that point the distinction between different regions of London will appear less relevant. For the purist, it should be noted that these theatres were actually in Surrey rather than the city of London, just as the theatres included in this version of EMLoT were actually in Middlesex, but website acronyms make their own demands, and historically the theatres were located so that Londoners could go to them, so we went for ‘London Theatres’ in the title, in the face of mild admonition from the editor of REED: Middlesex/Westminster! As Dr Kathman says, the resource is primarily driven by the logic of the documents rather than by the events to which they refer, and so distinctions between datasets will appear permeable when the documents require it. The one respect in which we did not follow the logic of documentation was this: on those occasions when the Learning Zone’s Tutorial on the Cockpit Riots itself constituted the first transcription of a pre-1642 document we did not then include reference to our transcription in the main database. However logical, this seemed more likely to confuse the user at an early stage in the life of the resource, though there is no doubt that EMLoT will itself become part of the tradition of scholarly use which it tries to illuminate, and so its research for pedagogical purposes may throw up data which needs to be made available to the Search functions of the website. At this point, however, we restricted self-reflexivity to revealing through our Tutorial the selective shaping which goes into writing cultural history, and how EMLoT might or might not assist in understanding that process.

Finally, Dr Kathman points up the difficulty of finding specific events of which one has prior knowledge in those mass of legal documents which refer to them. As he says, the titles of the documents often do not help much, and reading through the Abstracts is required. This may be exacerbated by the number of links which a single legal document can generate — to venues, events, people, and so on. This point is well made, and the team is currently considering whether it is feasible for us to adopt either of the resolutions he suggests. One example of benefit from the current system, however, is that it reminds us that while scholars may refer to the lease of the Theatre as if it were an extant document, in fact our knowledge of it is derived from references in a later lawsuit. Revealing the complexity of documentary tradition is one of the advantages of this resource. But I would not claim that this answers Dr Kathman’s main point.

Perhaps I might use the privilege afforded by this response to point out something that can be lost when such research projects come to an end or, as we trust in this case, to a temporary halt. The makers and sponsors of Early Modern London Theatres hope that what has been created will be of genuine and ready use to people with a wide range of interests. Consequently, this review has been immensely encouraging to us all and we are grateful to Dr Kathman for it. However, one of the key sections of this website for me is the one entitled ‘Project Information’. Users will find listed there six financial sponsors, and nineteen core members of the project and advisory teams, drawn from six institutions on two continents. This is the hidden reality of the EMLoT research project and, I imagine, of many others besides: imagination from the sponsoring bodies, wide collaboration, varied expertise, creative inter-disciplinarity, and collegial team work.