- Notes from the Frontier: Digital Scholarship and the Future of Theatre Studies
This essay inaugurates a new practice atTheatre Journal to explicitly include digital scholarship among the works reviewed in this section. Beginning in the October 2015 issue, the “Books Received” section will include a new set of listings on digital scholarly resources. Scholars and presses should send listings of new projects published since 2013 to <TJBookReviews@gmail.com>, and interested reviewers should contact Ryan Claycomb, Book Reviews editor, at the same address.
The digital humanities have arrived. Across academic disciplines, in the halls of institutions of higher education, in conversations at academic publishing houses, in panels at conferences, in deliberations over funding at grant agencies, in interviews of job candidates, and in public discourse, the digital humanities are routinely referenced as the future of scholarly production. The National Endowment for the Humanities has a permanent Office of Digital Humanities that funds dozens of projects each year. Major academic presses like the University of Michigan’s and MIT’s have launched new series devoted to digital [End Page 347]humanities publications. Universities have established digital humanities centers to support faculty research. As William Pannapacker wrote in The Chronicle of Higher Education, the digital humanities are no longer “the next big thing,” but rather “The Thing”—soon to simply become “the humanities” at large. 1
The current landscape of digital humanities contributions to theatre studies contains many projects (four of which I review here) that point toward how the digital humanities will impact our field. To my knowledge, this is the first piece in an academic theatre journal to review digital scholarship. If digital projects are to be a major part of theatre studies, then it is essential that we as a scholarly community create dedicated space to review these digital humanities products alongside more traditional kinds of research output. In 2014, the ATHE–ASTR Joint Subcommittee on Non-Print Book Publishing released its white paper, “The Value of Electronic Publishing for Scholars in Theatre and Performance,” which called on the field to expand criteria for tenure and promotion to “include peer-reviewed electronic publications of substantial research projects on a par with print publications.” 2In order to facilitate this peer-review process, the subcommittee recommended that “journals represented by our scholarly organizations . . . should devote space to peer review of digital scholarship in addition to book review sections.” 3This essay responds to this call and represents an initial attempt to consider born-digital theatre scholarship alongside the print publications typically reviewed in this section.
First, what is the state of the digital humanities in theatre studies today? Digital scholarship is still in its infancy in our field compared with other disciplines like literary studies and history, which have far more established infrastructures for supporting, disseminating, and assessing digital humanities projects. To name just a few—in history: the Digital History Project, the Center for History and New Media at George Mason University, the NEH-ODH Doing Digital History Institute; in literature: the 2011 special issue of Profession on evaluating digital scholarship, the Digital Humanities and Literary Cognition Lab at Michigan State, Digital Humanities Quarterly’s 2013 special issue on “the literary.” In theatre studies, there is virtually no extant infrastructure to support, promote, or assess digital humanities projects.
In spite of these obstacles, digital scholarship has begun to proliferate in our field. The projects may be few in number in comparison with allied fields, but I would argue that the body of digital work produced in theatre studies to date demonstrates the medium’s potential to tackle some of our discipline’s most formidable challenges. Indeed, as many scholars before me have eloquently argued, digital humanities...