Shakespeare Electronic Conference, Vol. 1, No. 25. Wednesday, 22 Aug 1990.
Date:         Wed, 22 Aug 90 15:20:01 EDT
From:         Ken Steele <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>
Subject:      Breaking the Ice
      There is a point of "critical mass" for electronic
conferences, I suspect, at which the membership is sufficient
to generate spontaneously a continuous flow of discussion.  I
don't, however, have any idea quite where that point is;
doubtless it can be shifted up or down by innumerable
factors, like perhaps the loquaciousness and contentiousness
of its members, or the nature of its subject, or the season
of the year.
      Although the warm weather is still with us, and the
sunshine persuasively beckons us away from our terminals,
September and another school year is about to begin.  We
could postpone conversation on SHAKSPER until after our
August vacations, or after the chaos of September
registration, or until the next forty would-be SHAKSPEReans
have submitted their biographies, or indeed until well into
next year -- but then we'd just have more of the sort of
silence which smothers so many Bitnet discussion groups.
      The fact is, there are now almost fifty of us, and
judging by our biographies, we share so many common interests
that we should have to work very hard indeed to maintain such
silence.  If even two or three of us were in an elevator we'd
have plenty to say to each other.  Here on SHAKSPER, with
members scattered from Alaska to Korea, from undergraduate to
emeritus, and from poets to performers, we should have some
truly fascinating conversations!  Of course, first we have
some proverbial ice to break, and while my wit is hardly the
sharpest or the best propelled among this formidable group, I
will venture an attempt.
      I'd like to outline some of the common interests I
detect from among the biographies.  Self-evidently all of us
are sufficiently familiar with computing technology to have
discovered Bitnet, and to have joined SHAKSPER.  This does
not mean that we all share the same degree of interest in
computer applications to Shakespeare study, but at least we
can all follow the conversation.  I firmly believe that
HUMANIST is the appropriate forum for discussing humanities
computing, and definitely don't want to see the subject of
SHAKSPER become limited to Shakespearean computing, but I for
one would like to hear about the "tools of the trade" used by
others in this conference.  (Personally, I make regular use
of the WordCruncher Riverside Shakespeare, King James Bible,
and the TACT Chaucer, Shakespeare, and Milton.  I am
impressed by the CD-ROM Oxford English Dictionary, but cannot
afford the necessary hardware just now.)
      It was also perhaps predictable that, SHAKSPEReans
being drawn largely from educational institutions, we would
share a strong interest in pedagogy.  Most of us either teach
or study Shakespeare in the classroom, and a number are
explicitly interested in pedagogical methods.  Just what *is*
it that we *teach* when we "teach Shakespeare"?  And to the
students among us: what do students expect to *learn* when
they enrol in a Shakespeare course?  What basic background do
undergraduates of the 1990s have in common, and what
fundamentals are they lacking?  How are videotapes, audio
recordings, and performances best integrated into lectures,
seminars, or tutorials?  These are only a few of many many
questions we could address.
      Surprisingly, SHAKSPER seems to include an inordinate
number of textual scholars or bibliographers (and several
more are soon to join).  Is there a causal connection?
Rather like computing technology, textual studies seem to
change by the hour, and staying abreast of the latest
scholarship is a never-ending struggle.  What are the best
sources for current information?  How could we make SHAKSPER
one of them?  What have you read recently that we should all
hear about?  Is memorial reconstruction a ludicrous theory,
or an inevitable conclusion?  How much do we know, and how
much will we never know, about Shakespeare's text?
      SHAKSPER also includes a number of medievalists, a
couple of playwrights, librarians, and those interested in
Shakespeare as a sociological phenomenon.  It may not be
possible to interest *all* the SHAKSPEReans *all* of the
time, but if we begin parallel discussions on themes such as
these, we'll all find something of interest and of value
      So first, read through the biography files (currently
and get acquainted with the other members of the conference.
Then, even though there are at least three other people in
the world who are better qualified (there usually are), write
a note about a Shakespearean topic that interests you and
send it to SHAKSPER@utoronto.  After all, we're all looking
for an excuse to start a conversation...
                                    Ken Steele
                                    University of Toronto

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