General Editors: Thomas C. Crochunis and Michael Eberle-Sinatra

Crochunis, Thomas. 'The Smell of the Greasepaint, the Roar of the Crowd, the Crinkle of the Archive's Paper - A Response to Kate Newey's "Women's Theatrical Texts and Contexts".' British Women Playwrights around 1800. 1 March 1999. 17 pars. <>

Copyright © Contributor, 1999-2008. This essay is protected under the copyright laws of the United States and the Universal Copyright Convention. Publication (print or electronic) or commercial use of any of the copyrighted materials without direct authorization from the copyright holder is strictly prohibited.


My responses to Kate Newey's provocative paper are written as annotations to particular portions of her essay. By clicking on local annotations, you can see what thoughts particular parts of her piece have raised for me; by clicking "back" at the end of the annotation, you return to the annotation point in her text.


I want to thank Kate for challenging all of us through the ways she has brought her teaching and research experience to bear on some of the issues raised by electronic media. I hope my comments will help to further the discussion.


Mitford play from the CD-ROM


The use of paper copies of plays does indeed seem to be a material pedagogical reality. It might suggest that, for teaching purposes, we need printouts—something which could have implications for how we approach our development of this site. Did your students get hard copies of newspapers, too? If not, why was it important that they get the plays this way? Length? Something about the private reading experience of plays as literature? How about Oliver Twist? Maybe this circles back to Jane Moody's question about how we will read (in) the electronic archive, adding to it some of the cultural materialist issues that are introduced by our pedagogical assumptions. [back to Newey's essay]


Mitford play from the CD-ROM


without travelling a long way

Perhaps we really need to back up and look closely at how distinct kinds of artifactual materials help us make meaning as theatre historians, emphasizing the processes by which we read visual, sensual, and textual materials and examining how various media can convey those relevant percepts and codes. One of the things that encoding forces us to consider is the protocols of decoding in which we engage. When we start to ask about these kinds of protocols of reading, we then have to begin to acknowledge that there are typical patterns of reading for different groups of readers (and of course variations by individuals, but that way madness lies). This particular site has to ask, at a minimum, how literary scholars, theatre historians, and undergraduate students read. [back to Newey's essay]


Mitford play from the CD-ROM


a theatre history derived from virtual sources?

Much depends on what is already known or not known by any given scholar or student. Remember how little is common knowledge about this period, these sub-cultures, how much of an impediment many scholars are to their students' learning what they might want to learn, what they might need to know to become interested in the materiality of which you speak. There are certainly lots of contemporary feminist scholars and many Romantic-period literary scholars, possibly the vast majority, who do not know squat about this period. And so neither do their students. Nor will their students know what they do not know. It is not that I think the materiality of which you speak is a "frill" —absolutely not, it is essential—but I think that it is a kind of sensitivity and interpretive capacity that needs to be accessible from many different access points.


By this I mean that the very structure of the course you describe has set out terms by which the limitations of the media can be confronted; but all courses do not do so. In fact, a vast majority of courses in the British nineteenth century (I would bet) barely gesture toward the kind of material culture that marks a limit for electronic research in your course. How would a student taking one of those other courses become interested in encountering the limits you mention? Likely, they would not.


I think that here we are not so much envisioning a "theatre history derived from virtual sources" as an alternative entry point to a more rangy conception of theatre history. There are things that might not be seen in this form of archive (unless someone was there beforehand to encode them, it that were possible). But other cultural, material, and textual patterns might get noticed for the first time. [back to Newey's essay]


Mitford play from the CD-ROM


far less information about the play and its contexts

This point raises a crucial point, I think. The space between any play text and the cultural context for theatre is indeed one that deserves our attention. Your course had, as you note, established a print cultural context in which to make meaning from the materiality of cheaply produced play texts. Consider what your students might have made, however, of a manuscript copy. How would the print cultural codes have served them in that case? Would the significant material features of such a manuscript be easier or harder to represent electronically than printed plays? Could the paper copies of a play be read versatilely? What might be some of the ways that digitized plays—from manuscript or published versions—might be queried? Did the focus of your course frame out those readings? I ask that question not in any way to criticize the course (every course has to frame its interpretive parameters and yours did so in a very interesting, compelling, and important way), but to note that the limitations of electronic materials you noted might be examples of the particular parameters of your course. Another course might find parallel but different limitations. What we might need to be able to do at this site is to envision some typical kinds of courses and the limitations electronic texts have for them; then we need to ask how we can (and how we cannot) address those limitations through how we proceed here. [back to Newey's essay]


antiquarian scholarly tradition

In referring several times to this tradition, you raise a crucial point about the need to build electronic archives that are self-conscious about their lineage. The cultural practices (particularly those on the fringes of professional scholarship) that have played an important role in theatre historiography need to be part of what an archive "represents." [back to Newey's essay]


high culture and critical theory on the written text

The difference in orientation you mention seems to point to two traditions that are supported by distinct cultural and reading practices. The electronic archive may blur their boundaries, interfering with their well rehearsed professional and pedagogical separation. [back to Newey's essay]


any text and the conditions of its production

I think we are not so much asking whether electronic media can play a role in historiography but which roles they can play and how. Is electronic editing more likely than other kinds of scholarly editing to problematize the theatre text? How is it different from editing for print? What about the media of microforms? How do each of these media frame the theatre text? What do they include, what exclude? What, for that matter, does the material archive itself frame out of the picture? What might electronic editing add to what other media make available? Is it possible that what the electronic archive might add is hard to see because it is more a process than a particular kind of information? [back to Newey's essay]


histories of the theatre buildings

Hear, hear! I will even go one step further and suggest that new forms of media using combination of video, audio, and virtual space design could open new possibilities for online performances that could write theatre history from another perspective. Imagine a group of actors that could explore a text in relation to a virtual, 3-D re-construction of Drury Lane and contrast that performance to one situated on their own campus in a modern performance space. [back to Newey's essay]


a real concentration of cultural capital

To really get into questions surrounding the direction of future editions and the capital behind them, we need to do some very detailed thinking about our own labor as cultural capital and the ways the structures of our institutions support certain kinds of production more or less out of ideological inertia. Yes, creating an electronic archive is "expensive," but so is subsidizing the publishing industry that republishes dead white men on a regular cycle. Universities and their libraries have some choices to make and a lot depends on how we exert our efforts to redirect their resources. But we need some very detailed thinking about where we are going and how our directions will serve the work we think is important. It is very possible that a really sophisticated strategy (and maybe the Brown Women Writers Project has already been here well before us) would use a combination of electronic and print availability to leverage a multi-directional availability. [back to Newey's essay]


'unworthy' of substantial print publication?

This may be "where the rubber hits the road" in much of our work. It is true that print editions still carry a kind of literary authority and pragmatic ease of use. Are their authority and usefulness the kinds we want to advocate for women's theatre writing? Do we need a new kind of cultural authority that will reposition women's plays, perhaps putting them at the forefront of a different movement? Or is it better to get them a piece of the pie that is already baked? (Please excuse the bizarre metaphors.) [back to Newey's essay]


social, and economic capital

Here I think we need to look more comprehensively at how capital is deployed in the creation of print editions. We should not treat cover price as the basic measure, as I think your delineation of kinds of capital suggests. It is interesting to think of the example of your course as a complex gesture in relation to the circulation of capital. Through ways you taught students to read, through the materials you used (xeroxes of fiche and of electronic text printouts), you revised the way print materials functioned for them. Other such pedagogical maneuvers, in multiple venues, are needed to influence capital's circulation. [back to Newey's essay]


we need to be clear about what is at stake

The challenge for us, I think, is to register that decisions are already being made, processes are already in motion, institutional structures being formed and dismantled. We are not standing calmly before a landscape but trying to leap on a moving train. I do not mean to melodramatize here. And regardless of whether things are still or in motion, we need to think hard yet calmly. Things are at stake. For instance, the materials of which we speak are not permanent—they are degenerating. And decisions are being made about what to do about them. So the process of engaging and exploring some of the options is not one we can put off. Nor is it one we should rush into. And so there's a tension. And so we need to be having this conversation, as we are here, now. [back to Newey's essay]

17. I feel like your piece has really forced me to think in a more detailed way about some of the issues this work raises. My question is, "What do the rest of you out there think?" Let us know and we will find some way to make your thoughts part of the discussion. Feel free to send an email commenting on Kate's essay and/or my response.

Thomas C. Crochunis
The LAB at Brown University

Thomas C. Crochunis is an independent scholar, currently working as a communications specialist for the U.S. Department of Education research laboratory at Brown University. Since finishing his dissertation at Rutgers University, "Staged Reading: Theatrical Character in the Dramatic Poetry of Robert Browning," he has co-edited a volume of essays on Joanna Baillie's plays and dramaturgy (Gordon and Breach, forthcoming). In 1998, he was guest editor of a special issue of Romanticism on the Net on British Women Playwrights around 1800. He is also co-founder (with Michael Eberle-Sinatra) of the Web-based working group on British Women Playwrights around 1800.