The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 30.001 Monday, 2 January 2019
Date: Wednesday, January 2, 2019
Subject: Happy New Year and Announcement
Dear SHAKSPER Subscribers:
Happy New Year to all and welcome to Volume 30 of SHAKSPER.
This will be my final year as your daily Editor. At this time in 2020, I will hand over the Editor mantle to Stephanie Chamberlain, Professor of English at Southeast Missouri State University. I will be Editor Emeritus and will take over whenever Stephanie needs me.
Ken Steele, then a graduate student at the University of Toronto, founded SHAKSPER on July 26, 1990: http://shaksper.net/archive/1990/25-july/22-10001-shaksper-initial-message. Because volume numbers are associated with calendar years, SHAKSPER today enters its 30th year of serving the academic Shakespeare community. Many of you know the SHAKSPER story; a few have even been around from its inception. SHAKSPER began in a computing world far different from the one we know and use today. Being the 30th anniversary, I thought I would celebrate with a LONG posting—a really LONG posting—looking back at some key events of those years.
The Internet, without being too technical, can be said to have begun in 1961 when Leonard Kleinrock developed “the theory of packet switching, which was to form,” according to Walt Howe, “the basis of Internet connections.” In 1966, The Department of Defense’s Advanced Research Project Agency (ARPA) worked on Advanced Research Projects Agency Network (ARPANET) so researchers in the United States could share supercomputers. ARPANET was brought online in 1969, at first connecting four United States universities. In 1971, Ray Tomlinson invented an “email program to send messages across a distributed network”; this program became operable on ARPANET the following year. In 1973, ARPANET was connected to University College in London and the Royal Radar Establishment in Norway, creating an international network.
Throughout the 1970s, technical advances continued. In 1981, that “BITNET (Because It’s Time Network) connected IBM mainframes around the educational community (Howe),” which provided “electronic mail and listserv servers to distribute information, as well as file transfers” (Zakon). BITNET next became “gatewayed” (i.e., connected) to ARPANET, or the Internet as it was beginning to be called. What had been, according to Howe, long the domain of “computer experts, engineers, scientists, and librarians” was rapidly spreading across the rest of the academy. Pioneering academics started exchanging messages electronically, joining USENET newsgroups and electronic bulletin boards, and becoming members of e‐mail distribution lists as mini-computers and personal computers expanded in number and popularity. Non‐technical people progressively began using these and other developing tools: Archie, which made library catalogs accessible; WAIS (Wide Area Information Server), which indexed files into text searchable databases; gopher, which created easy to use menu systems to access files; spider, which indexed gopher menus; and a variety of others with colorful names like Veronica and Jughead.
In 1991, the European Laboratory for Particle Physics (CERN) developed “a new protocol for information distribution . . . which became the World Wide Web in 1991. [ . . . It] was based on hypertext—a system of embedding links in text to link to other text” (Howe). Initially, hypertext text, as well as all Internet materials, was reachable from a prompt (C:\>_) after which commands were typed. The next most crucial step in the popularization of the Internet was the 1993 introduction of Mosaic, a graphical interface for the World Wide Web. The Mosaic-style interface changed computing completely; now anyone could “surf” the Internet with ease and without needing to know often-obscure commands or without necessarily having to type anything. The “point‐and‐click world” was born; and, as a result, the Internet and the world were changed forever.
Many early computer enthusiasts began with personal computers and connections to university servers from offices on-campus. I bought my first personal computer in 1983, frustrated with having Wite-Out all over my fingers and typewriter. I used my first computer principally for word processing. Initially being thrilled by the spellchecker, I soon began experimenting with and then adopting other applications as equipment in my ever‐expanding electronic toolbox: a thesaurus, an outlining program, proofreading and editing software, a bibliography generator, basic text scanning and optical character recognition (OCR) software, a laptop computer (Radio Shack’s Model 100), and later a notebook computer (NEC UltraLite), all of which, in retrospect, seem crude when compared to their sophisticated, contemporary iterations. During these early years for me, two items standout: getting access to the Internet (through a VAX terminal at my university office and through an Internet service provider, ISP, at my home) and using WordCruncher, a program I continue to use today that enables me to search the Riverside Shakespeare quickly and effortlessly. Getting access to the Internet and using WordCruncher afforded me a foretaste of some electronic resources that would follow—“O, brave new world” that has such wonderful technology in it.
What was to become the most radical change in my computing life happened as a result of my listening to Willard McCarty present a paper, “Humanist: Lessons from a Global Electronic Seminar,” at the 1989 MLA Convention in Washington, D.C. McCarty founded HUMANIST in 1987, the prototype of the academic “electronic seminar,” as he called it. He used Listserv©, e-mail distribution software, to deliver and archive messages so as to “foster discussion of basic problems and exchange of information among humanists world-wide, thus aiding research and strengthening the community.” I immediately joined, dutifully submitting the required biography. Soon afterwards, I participated in the seminar on using computers in Shakespeare studies at the 1990 Shakespeare Association of America Annual Conference in Philadelphia. Other seminar members as were Michael Best (founder and Coordinating Editor of Internet Shakespeare Editions), James L. Harner (World Shakespeare Bibliography Online), and Ken Steele. During the Conference, Ken shared with me his thoughts about starting an electronic conference dedicated to Shakespeare following the model of HUMANIST.
SHAKSPER began at the University of Toronto on an IBM mainframe connected to BITNET and using Listserv© software. About a dozen Shakespeareans including myself formed the core of founding members, with the membership quickly growing to twenty and continuing to rise. During the first year and a half, if my memory serves, all but one of SHAKSPER’s members, Vint Cerf (an Internet pioneer), were affiliated with colleges and universities. It would take another ten years before large numbers of non-academics joined SHAKSPER. Two years after its founding, almost all of SHAKSPER’s 293 members continued to be 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 with which we are now familiar. The remaining addresses, except for one with an “ORG” extension were Bitnet or Internet addresses from academic institutions. On February 21, 1992, I became SHAKSPER’s co-editor, at first being responsible for the fileserver. 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.
Over the years, SHAKSPER’s membership continued to grow: 400 in October 1993, 500 in February 1994, 700 in September 1994, 1,000 in March 1995, about 1,250 in January 1997, peaking at around 1,500 after 2000, with approximately 1,000 members currently. The Internet had opened up rapidly and transparently with the introduction of graphical interfaces and the subsequent proliferation of commercial Internet Service Providers and free Internet e-mail services. This opening was reflected in the growth of SHAKPER’s membership.
Thousands of topics have been discussed throughout SHAKSPER’s thirty years. Members surely will differ about the ones they consider most memorable, but I will never forget Terence Hawkes’s response to the announcement of the As You Like It Hike performed by Equity actors at various locations throughout a forest: “We may have to abandon our annual ‘King Lear’ Cakewalk. Persuading the audience to jump off the cliff was always difficult. However, guests will continue to be welcome at the Titus Andronicus Lunch (no substitutions).” I will also not soon forget the disagreements about the appropriateness of postings about Shakespeare-related pornography, the extended discussion of A Funeral Elegy, the first mentions of “Presentism,” or the question of whether Hamlet and Ophelia had sexual relations and the responses: Louis Scheeder’s “Only in the Chicago company” and Terry Hawkes’s “The theory shared by a number of MY colleagues is that Hamlet and Ophelia had textual relations.”
In her “President’s Letter: 1993-94” in the Shakespeare Association of America Bulletin, Phyllis Rackin, mentioned a heated discussion on SHAKSPER that followed the announcement that Sam Wanamaker had been awarded a CBE for his work on the Bankside Globe: “Outraged responses from the UK provoked a series of exchanges that exposed profound differences between the political and cultural locations occupied by ‘Shakespeare’ on the two sides of the Atlantic.” This exchange was one of my most memorable threads on SHAKSPER, exploring the political dimensions of building of the “New” Globe theatre.
In the early years, another thread led me to ban discussion of the purported Authorship Question. The first authorship-related posting on SHAKSPER appeared on February 27, 1991: an announcement by Mike Ellwood of a BBC radio program that claimed that the scroll the Shakespeare figure on the statue in Westminster Abbey is holding contains a cipher that Francis Bacon was the playwright. September 20, 1991, witnessed an announcement of the competing articles in the Atlantic Monthly: one by Tom Bethell, advocating that the Earl of Oxford wrote Shakespeare’s plays, and another by Irvin Matus, defending the traditional attribution to William Shakespeare of Stratford-upon-Avon. More than a year later, Peter Scott announced the Frontline program that examined the possibility that Edward de Vere, the 17th Earl of Oxford, composed the plays attributed to William Shakespeare. A year after this, Anthony Hatch asked whether anyone had attended that mock trial in Boston in which Shakespeare’s identity was debated. However, a sustained discussion of “Authorship” did not begin until after April 4, 1994, when John Cox posted an anti-Oxfordian limerick cycle that had been sent to him by David Bevington. Oxfordian Pat Buckridge charged that Bevington had “an interest in ridiculing the actually very powerful Oxford claim.” David Kathman and Steve Urkowitz rose to Bevington’s defense and the “Authorship” debate of 1994 was underway. The exchanges persisted unabated through October, November, and December. Dave Kathman and others continued with facts and grace to answer every assertion made by the avowed Oxfordians and those who simply identified themselves as anti-Stratfordians. I become fatigued by the demands that these posting were making on my time and patience. On December 27, 1994, I forbade further discussion of the topic on SHAKSPER.
Happy New Year to all,