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New Projects - Harry Watkins Diary

Posted By Sarah Bay-Cheng, York University, Thursday, October 15, 2015


As announced, each month this blog will feature a different theatre or performance studies project that intersects with digital methodology.  More information about a diversity of projects is available at the Projects page. This page is still under development, so please add your project by editing the page. To have your project featured on this blog, contact:

This month, we're featuring The Diary of Harry Watkins, an historical project to digitize the the diary of American actor, stage manager, and playwright. The following information is from the group's collaborators.

Virtually yours,


A Player and a Gentleman:

The Diary of Harry Watkins, Nineteenth-Century US American Actor

Amy E. Hughes and Naomi J. Stubbs, Editors

Scott D. Dexter, Technology Director

Actor, theater manager, and playwright Harry Watkins (1825–1894) never became famous, but he always worked. He collaborated with the most celebrated performers and producers of the day, including P. T. Barnum, Edwin Forrest, and J. B. Booth; he penned more than fifty plays and performed in them all over the United States; and he even enjoyed a successful tour in England—a notable accomplishment for a US-born theater artist. From 1845 to 1860, Watkins kept a diary in which he detailed the roles he performed, the plays he saw, the people he met, the books he read, and his impressions of current events. At nearly 1,200 pages in thirteen volumes, this substantial manuscript holds tremendous value for historians, students, and general readers.

A Player and a Gentleman, our hybrid critical/digital edition of Watkins’s diary, will enable students and scholars to access to an accurate version of the diary transcribed and edited in accordance with contemporary standards. It is a “born digital” endeavor: for the past two years, the editorial team has used a Drupal-powered workflow tool that has enabled faculty and students at three CUNY campuses to collaborate on this documentary-editing project. This open-source software has allowed the team not only to establish a public presence for the project ( but also to create and revise XML-encoded transcriptions, facilitate tandem proofreading, and manage documents in accordance with best practices recommended by the Text Encoding Initiative (TEI) and the Association for Documentary Editing (ADE).

Ultimately, readers will be able to engage the diary in two formats. We are assembling a one-volume print edition, featuring excerpts selected to appeal to a wide readership, fully annotated and indexed. This volume will supersede the outdated One Man in His Time by Maud and Otis Skinner (University of Pennsylvania Press, 1938)—the only book containing selections from Watkins’s diary, upon which scholars have relied for more than seventy-five years. We are also assembling a digital edition comprising the entire uncorrected text of the manuscript, which users will be able to access and search online. Although it will not include the editorial interventions of the print edition (e.g. introduction, annotations, enhanced readability), the digital edition will offer researchers the opportunity to find (for example) all references to Edwin Forrest or every mention of Hamlet in the manuscript. We will further maximize the unique opportunities of the online environment by showcasing multimedia material related to subjects discussed in the diary (such as playbills, illustrations, and photographs), links to other resources (including a digital facsimile of the full manuscript hosted by Harvard University), and pedagogical resources to support teachers using the diary in their classrooms. Together, these complementary editions will not only enable scholars to fill gaps in our knowledge about antebellum theater culture, but also allow general readers to imagine what it was like to live and labor during one of the most tumultuous periods in US history.

Tags:  19th century  acting  American  digital humanities  history 

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