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Internet Shakespeare Editions

The Internet Shakespeare Editions: Magic in the Web

There's magic in the web of it
(Othello, 3.4, TLN 2208)

When the Word Wide Web Consortium was founded in 1994, a handful of scholars in the Humanities saw its potential as truly magic: the capacity to link instantly between words, works, and other media, echoes closely the mental processes of association and exploration we associate with literary devices like simile, metaphor, and symbol. Two years later Dr. Michael Best, at the University of Victoria, created the Internet Shakespeare Editions (ISE) as an extension of earlier work he had published on CD ROM; he became Coordinating Editor of the new project. Its mission was to bring scholarly Shakespeare resources to the growing global audience on the Web through open access. Working in partnership with Creative Director Roberta Livingstone, who oversaw the creation of sophisticated graphic design and navigation, and with the help of a team of mainly volunteer students, the site expanded rapidly. Shakespeare's works demand the full technical resources of the medium, with their interconnection of complex texts, the rich context of the Renaissance world influencing the plays as they were written, and the seemingly inexhaustible wealth of variety in the performance of his plays. By 1999 the site had published old-spelling versions of all the canonical plays, an extensive and much-consulted section on Shakespeare's Life and Times, and a section that demonstrated what was possible in the medium in displaying information about Shakespeare in performance.

In the same year, the site caught the attention of Dr. Tim Walzak, Director of the Innovation Development Corporation at the University of Victoria (now Research Partnerships and Knowledge Mobilization). Under his guidance, the ISE was transformed from a research project headed by a single faculty member into an independent non-profit corporation, formally embedding the ISE's mission of scholarly publication and open access. As a corporation, the ISE was able to provide an independent authority for establishing the essential infrastructure of advisory boards and to enter into contractual agreements with its editors; in due course it became possible for its Board of Directors to negotiate a formal partnership with the University of Victoria by which it was assured continuing access to is servers and technical support to maintain its presence on the Web.

From its modest beginnings, the ISE has grown to become a worldwide collaboration, as scholars from many countries edit each play and curate the updated Life and Times. Beginning in 2006 we were pleased to add two additional web-based publishers to our software platform, the Queen’s Men Editions, headed by Dr. Helen Ostovich of McMaster University, and Digital Renaissance Editions, spearheaded by Dr. Brett Hirsch, now at Leeds University. The ISE has been a pioneer among the growing community of scholarly websites that collectively established the Web as a medium for high quality scholarly publication, worthy of support by granting agencies; between 2000 and 2017 the site was supported by four grants to Dr. Best from the Social Sciences and Humanities Council of Canada. At the same time, the non-profit ISE Incorporated was exploring alternative means of sustaining the site and enhancing its reputation. In 2009 ISE Inc. signed an agreement with Broadview Press to publish distilled versions of the more extensive Web editions of the plays, and two years later, with the collaboration of the University of Victoria Libraries, the ISE launched a campaign to raise funds for the site; taking a cue from the ISE's logo of a swan, the campaign was christened Making Waves, and has raised over $100,000 dollars.

For the last decade, ISE Incorporated has been working towards donating the website and its associated infrastructure to the University of Victoria; as of 21 December, 2018, we are proud to celebrate the successful conclusion of this process. Dr. Janelle Jenstad was appointed by ISE Incorporated to the position of Associate Coordinating Editor in 2011 and took over the full Coordinating Editorship from 2017-18; she resigned from this position in August 2018, but will continue to work on the wider project that will house the updated version of the ISE, LEMDO (Linked Early Modern Drama Online). The position of Coordinating Editor is now filled by Dr. James Mardock from the University of Nevada, Reno, which is providing generous support to the project. Through the larger project, LEMDO, the ISE remains based at the University of Victoria, with full support from both the Faculty of Humanities and the University Libraries. The University of Victoria has undertaken to maintain in full the mission of ISE Incorporated: to publish open-access, peer-reviewed Shakespeare resources with the highest standards of scholarship, design, and usability, using the full resources of the medium of the Web.

In a period where the potential magic of the Web is being challenged by the widespread dissemination of falsehoods, the ISE, under the new leadership of Dr. Mardock and the stewardship of the Universities of Victoria and Nevada, will continue to demonstrate the positive contribution the medium can make to those who seek quality, accuracy, reliability, and—thanks to William Shakespeare—beauty, excitement, and insight into a human drama that encompasses both comedy and tragedy, the duplicity of Iago and the integrity of Desdemona.

An honor roll

The ISE has been made possible by a team ranging from over fifty student programmers and assistants at the University of Victoria. In addition, many others have made significant contributions. On our distinguished Editorial Board, Eric Rasmussen has brought a keen critical assessment of our editors' work, coupled with humor and effectiveness in creating teamwork, and David Bevington has brought both his reputation and skill as editor to the project at a time when many still dismissed the medium as unreliable. On our Board of Directors, Marnie Swanson, then University Librarian, had the acute foresight to see where libraries would be heading in a digital world, and provided essential support to the project; Linda Hardy, from the Department of Theatre, provided a superb example of the potential of the performance database in her production of Romeo and Juliet, featured as "proof of concept" in our early days, and has been a stalwart supporter since; Peter Liddell brought common sense and an awareness of the workings of the academic world to the Board. Among the many who served as gifted student programmers and research assistants, Michael Joyce, Maxwell Terpstra, and Lindsay Gagel stand out in their dedication and willingness to put their own time into the project. Under the direction of Roberta Livingstone, graphic designer Chris Chong successfully created a "look and feel" that elegantly matches the tone and quality of the content of the website.

At the University of Victoria, we are grateful to the current Dean, Christopher Goto-Jones, Associate Dean of Research, Margaret Cameron, and the University Librarian, Jonathan Bengtson for choosing to support the ISE as a pioneer in scholarly digital publishing. The team at the Humanities Computing and Media Centre (HCMC) have always been ready to provide advice and support, especially Greg Newton and Martin Holmes; and from her first appointment as Assistant Coordinating Editor Janelle Jenstad was instrumental in extending the network of scholars from multiple universities that sustain the ISE. We look forward to the new version of the ISE website, created in collaboration with HCMC, which will take advantage of advances in the field to update the site and to use fully standardized encoding for the texts and associated critical materials.