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Home :: Archive :: 2004 :: December ::
Season's Greetings and Look back at History of
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 15.2142  Monday, 27 December 2004

From:           Hardy M. Cook <
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Date:           Monday, December 27, 2004
Subject:        Season's Greetings and Look back at History of SHAKSPER

Dear SHAKSPEReans,

Just a reminder that I am taking some time off but may perhaps on
another occasion before the New Year send out SHAKSPER digests.

SHAKSPER is about to enter its sixteenth year. To celebrate, I thought
that I might include edited excerpts from a yet-to-be-published paper I
wrote about the conference. If you are not interested, please exercise
your right to hit the delete key.

Best wishes,
Hardy

       SHAKSPER is an international "electronic seminar" that enables
ongoing discussion of all things Shakespearean.  Technically an e-mail
distribution list, it uses LISTSERV software to deliver, archive, and
manage its digests.  In addition, the SHAKSPER web site
<www.shaksper.net> makes all the list's archived materials readily
accessible over the Internet.  The membership currently includes
approximately 1,300 SHAKSPEReans from sixth-three countries.
Shakespearean textual scholars and bibliographers, editors and critics
are members, but so are university, college, and community-college
professors, high-school teachers, undergraduates and graduates, actors,
theatre professionals, authors, poets, playwrights, librarians, computer
scientists, lawyers, doctors, retirees, and other interested
participants.  The great variety of backgrounds, interests, and levels
of sophistication of the SHAKSPER community is an integral part of what
makes the discussions so wide-ranging and interesting to all.  SHAKSPER
does strive, however, to focus on the scholarly by offering the
opportunity for the formal exchange of ideas through queries and
responses regarding literary, critical, textual, theoretical, and
performative topics and issues.  Announcements of conferences, of calls
for papers, of seminars, of lectures, of symposia, of job openings, of
the publication of books, of the availability of online and print
articles, of Internet databases and resources, of journal contents, and
of performances and festivals are regular features as are reviews of
scholarly books, of past and present theatrical productions, and of
Shakespeare and Shakespeare-inspired films as well as citations and
discussions of "popular" culture references to Shakespeare and his
works.  Further, SHAKSPER provides occasion for spontaneous informal
discussion, eavesdropping (known as lurking), peer review, and a sense
of belonging to a worldwide scholarly community.

       On May 14, 1987, Willard McCarty then of the Centre for Computing
in the Humanities at the University of Toronto founded HUMANIST as "a
Bitnet/NetNorth electronic mail network for people who support computing
in the humanities"
(http://lists.village.virginia.edu/lists_archive/Humanist/v01/8705.1324)
to "foster discussion of basic problems and exchange of information
among humanists world-wide, thus aiding research and strengthening the
community" (http://www.kcl.ac.uk/humanities/cch/wlm/essays/humanist/).
HUMANIST was the prototype for all academic e-mail distribution lists
and continues to this day under McCarty's able editorship.  In 1989,
Kenneth Steele, then a graduate student at the University of Toronto,
inspired by HUMANIST, decided to found a similar list dedicated to
Shakespeare.  The name he chose was SHAKSPER; at the time, for technical
reasons, list names could be no longer than eight characters.  On July
26, 1990, Steele's dream became reality.

       I met Ken Steele at the 1990 Shakespeare Association of America
annual meeting in Philadelphia.  We were both members of a seminar on
computing approaches to Shakespeare.  He told me about his plans for the
Shakespeare Conference, and I expressed my interest.  About a dozen
Shakespeareans including myself formed the core of founding members.  On
February 21, 1992, I became SHAKSPER's co-editor, at first being
responsible for the file server.  On March 25, I took over the editing
of the daily submissions into the digests.  On June 3, Ken decided to
take a leave of absence from his graduate studies, and I became
SHAKSPER's owner, editor, and moderator.  At the time, there were 293
members, virtually all from academia.  Commercial Internet service
providers were just getting started in the early 1990s.  The January 1,
1992, membership list of 223, for example, contains only eight addresses
that ended in "com," and none of these are from the Internet service
providers we are so familiar with now.  The remaining, except for one
with an "org" extension, i.e., an organization, are Bitnet or Internet
addresses from academic institutions.  A cursory glance at the current
membership list reveals over 100 AOL subscribers, about 50 each with
HOTMAIL and YAHOO addresses, and another 300 or so from other commercial
or free Internet service providers; of course, some of these are
accounts of academics, professors and students, who would rather receive
their e-mail at their home addresses than their institutional ones, but
a significant number of non-academics are currently SHAKSPER members.
Through the early 1990s the number of members steady increased: 400 in
October 1993, 500 in February 1994, 700 in September 1994, and 1,000 in
March 1995.  Since the late 1990s, the membership has hovered around
1,300.

        Throughout SHAKSPER's fourteen-year history, many other landmarks come
to my mind.   Michael Warren of the University of California at Santa
Cruz offered a personal endorsement of SHAKSPER in his Presidential
Address during the conference luncheon of the 1991 Shakespeare
Association of America annual meeting.  Very early on, but I cannot
recall the exact date, Terry A. Gray, whose Mr. William Shakespeare and
the Internet web site is generally recognized as the best complete
annotated guide to the scholarly Shakespeare resources available on the
Internet, awarded  SHAKSPER a "five-star" rating
<http://daphne.palomar.edu/shakespeare/criticism.htm>.  Phyllis Rackin,
in her "President's Letter: 1993-94" in the Shakespeare Association of
America Bulletin, used a heated discussion that had occurred on SHAKSPER
as a starting place to explore and to invite members of the Association
to think about "new directions the organization should take and /or
features [they] think it most important to preserve."  In May of 1996, I
appointed members to The SHAKSPER Advisory Board to advise me on matters
of policy affecting the entire conference, on resolving complaints, and
on determining the appropriateness of certain posting.

       In January of 1996, SHAKSPER moved from it original home at the
University of Toronto to Bowie State University.  In her March 28, 1997,
President's Address at the Shakespeare Association of America's annual
meeting in Washington, D.C., Barbara Mowat cited SHAKSPER as one of
America's contributions to Shakespeare studies: "Since then [the
mid-to-late 19th century], to chronicle only a few notable achievements,
Americans have produced not only the Hinman collator and the Norton
Facsimile First Folio, but also Kittredge's notes, the authorship
controversy, new historicism, the SHAKSPER computer bulletin board
[sic], and the SAA seminars."  In 1999, I was granted the University
System of Maryland Board of Regents' Faculty Award for Excellence in
Research and Scholarship in large part for my work with SHAKSPER.  In
May 2000, I was given a substantial gift certificate to Poor Yorick CD
and Video Emporium from the members of SHAKSPER, as a result of a
campaign organized and implemented by three list members.  On March 15,
2001, Eric Luhrs announced that the long-awaited SHAKSPER web site was
operational.  On August 13, 2001, upon consultation with The SHAKSPER
Advisory Board, I began including a disclaimer in the footer that I
attach to every digest: "Although SHAKSPER is a moderated discussion
list, the opinions expressed on it are the sole property of the poster,
and the editor assumes no responsibility for them."  On February 3,
2002, I moved the SHAKSPER list from Bowie State to my home and changed
the domain name to shaksper.net.  The move occurred for many reasons,
foremost of which was my desire that the list be completely under my
control.  By being personally responsible for all of the costs and
operations associated with delivering the list, I gained the flexibility
I wanted to run the list exactly as I saw fit.

       SHAKSPER is an edited and moderated mailing list.  Most of my
work for it involves preparing the daily digests, into which I group
related messages.  Several times a day, I check the Inbox of

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 , the account to which all SHAKSPER submissions are
routed.  I delete spam and other irrelevant messages.  (Herein lies one
of the advantages of a moderated list; only the editor can send messages
to the SHAKSPER address for LISTSERV to distribute to the members, so
members receive only what is supposed to be directed to the list and not
any of the "junk" e-mail that is sent to it.)  I respond to inquiries
from members and non-members as appropriate.  I do not answer questions
from students requesting I do their homework assignments, although on
occasion I direct some to an Internet or library source that might
assist them.  I do not post messages directed to individuals and not of
interest to the conference as a whole, such as a request for someone's
e-mail address.  Furthermore, I can intervene when an inadvertently
mistaken forward or personal response comes to the list rather than to
the person to whom it was intended, avoiding both the sometimes
embarrassing mistake and the apology for it.  I also can "kill" messages
that someone may write and afterwards have second thoughts about posting.

       When I come across a message intended for the list, I save that
e-mail as a plain text file in a folder on my hard drive.  I assign each
of these e-mails a short name and number identifying it as belonging to
an on-going thread or as being a new inquiry, announcement, or other
communication for SHAKSPER.  Once a day, usually in the morning, I edit
and format the messages into digests.  Each digest has a header and a
table of contents for ease in reading and citing.  The table of contents
includes the name and e-mail address of each person making a posting,
the date of the submission, and the subject.  I format these digests in
Word, using macros I have created for repetitive tasks.  My formatting
involves imposing a consistent "look and feel" to the digests - all
paragraphs are single-spaced and flush with the left margin.  I remove
carriage returns so that each paragraph will word wrap in any mailer
used to read it.  Paragraphs are separated by a single blank line.  I
also lightly edit, correcting obvious typos, reducing signatures to the
barest essentials, and generally making the digests conform to a
recognizable style I have imposed on them over the years.  After I have
finished formatting and editing an individual digest, I save it as an
ASCII file, the de facto standard for LISTSERV, which does not support
HTML.  Then I cut and paste that ASCII file into a blank mail message,
add the digest number and title to the subject line, and mail it for
distribution.  In addition to the digests, many SHAKSPER files require
regular updating: some daily, some weekly, some monthly, and others when
needed.  This updating of files is just one of the tasks of maintaining
the SHAKSPER file server.  Furthermore, SHAKSPER is not open to
automatic subscription; prospective members are requested to supply
brief autobiographies.  Thus, another part of my work for SHAKSPER
includes adding and deleting members and maintaining the biography and
membership files.  I also respond to personal inquiries and attend to
some of the technical problems associated with running a listserv on a
Sun Workstation, while referring more complicated ones to Eric Luhrs,
the SHAKSPER webmaster and Unix guru.

       I sometime feel that moderating SHAKSPER requires the patience of
Job, the judgment of Solomon, skin thick as steel (preferably
Teflon-coated), and the ability to leap tall buildings in a single
bound.  SHAKSPER was founded as an "academic" conference, and I still
view it as such.  Nevertheless, I have encouraged diversity and
inclusiveness and therein lies the source of many of the difficulties I
face as the list's moderator.  There have, over the years, been a number
of meta-discussions concerning SHAKSPER's purpose.

       Unquestionably, as SHAKSPER has aged and grown, the number of
daily submissions has proliferated.  There have been times that editing
and formatting the digests for a single day has taken me three or more
hours.  A high level of traffic means more work for me, but it has also
increased the frustration level of many long-time SHAKSPEReans, who
fondly remember when individual postings seldom took up more than a
single screen, when all messages could be read in ten minutes or less,
and when the vast majority of contributions were of scholarly interest.
  As a result, some for whom the list was established have quietly
resigned or become inactive, while others have developed the syndrome of
delete-key-itis.  In response, over the past year, I have made a special
effort to control the number of messages and the level of discourse on
the list.  My principal concerns are with chatty messages, flames (that
is, personal attacks on the poster rather than on the substance of the
post, which do not seem to infect SHAKSPER as much as they do similar
lists), and messages responding to what one member has said about
another member's post that are of little if any interest to the list as
a whole.  I am not particularly concerned with na

 

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