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Member Projects: Digital Yiddish Theatre Project

Posted By Sarah Bay-Cheng, Bowdoin College, Wednesday, December 16, 2015
Updated: Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Post: 16-Dec-2015

Greetings and happy it's-almost-winter-break season! A most happy time of the year for academics everywhere.

Every month, we highlight new projects by ASTR members working at the intersection of digital methods and theatre and performance studies. This month, I'm pleased to feature the Digital Yiddish Theatre Project, "a research consortium dedicated to the application of digital humanities tools and methods to the study of Yiddish theatre and drama."  

From the project's website:

"Founded in 2012, the DYTP is an experiment in scholarly collaboration across dozens of fields, methodologies, and institutions. Our fifteen members include theatre researchers, historians, literary scholars, musicologists, film scholars, librarians, archivists, performers, musicians, and independent scholars who among the leading scholars of Yiddish theater, drama, and related fields. 

The Digital Yiddish Theatre Project was formed in recognition of the linguistic, cultural, and geographic complexity of the Yiddish theatre, and of the ability of emerging digital humanities tools and methodologies to address that complexity. Together, we hope to address the full range of Yiddish theatrical production, from its beginnings to the present day. This site represents the first fruits of our collaboration: a place for us to share and discuss our findings with each other and with a wider public audience of those interested in learning more about the Yiddish stage."

Initiated by Joel Berkowitz (University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee) and Debra Caplan (Baruch College - CUNY), this  collaborative project includes 18 members representing diverse fields and skills, and a distinguished Board. The DYTP is an exciting collaborative effort to track and document the history of Yiddith theatre production and it offers not only an excellent research (particularly for those of us studying and teaching American theatre history), but also fine examples for how the digital humanities can usefully serve theatre and performance studies. 

The project's website features a regular blog that highlights new discoveries from the research and applies digital methodologies, such as data visualizations, to document a history too-long absent from dominant discourses of theatre history in the US and beyond. In the most recent blog post, Debra Caplan offers a visualization model to track the collaborations, training, and influence of the Vilna Theatre Troupe from the late 1910s through the mid 1930s. 

 In the linked visualization tool, readers can see the many interconnections among members of the troupe—many of whom were unknown—with more familiar names from theatre and film of the period and after. Sanford Meisner (not a Vilna Troupe member) is linked not only to Harold Clubman and Ethel Barrymore, but also Wolf Barzel and Joseph Buloff. While fascinating in its particulars (where else will you find Lucille Ball linked to Alexander Azro, who also performed with Harpo and Chico Marx?), the image as a whole compellingly demonstrates how integrate members of the Vilna Troupe were in the history of American theatre and film. 

Elsewhere, the site includes rich repositories of photographs, posters, and songs and is using crowdsourcing among other techniques to enhance its offerings. As such it provides a valuable and much-needed resource for theatre history in the both the US and well beyond. Those who would like to contribute to the project via the blog are invited to contact the project via the site. 

I’m looking forward to using the site in my teaching next semester, so I’ll be sure to post how it goes with my students.

 

***

Aside from some upcoming announcements and other small items of interest, the ASTR Digital Research and Scholarship blog will be dormant through the winter break. The zotero collections will continue to be updated, but the DRS bibliographies will not be updated until early February. The next blog full post will appear then and the project highlights will return in mid-February. If you would like to have your project featured in an upcoming project highlight, please email me with details at: sbaycheng@bowdoin.edu. 

Until then, have a restful and restorative winter break and a happy new year to everyone. I remain,

Virtually yours,

Sarah Bay-Cheng

 

Tags:  archives  projects  theatre history  web  Yiddish theatre 

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