By Dave Weatherall
He may have died 400 years ago, but Shakespeare’s presence is alive and well on campus and online thanks to uOttawa’s School of Information Studies (SIS).
Students Camille McAllister, Laurence Huot and Margaret Ashburner, with help from their supervisors — Tony Horava, associate university librarian for collections, and Irene Makaryk, English professor and Shakespeare400 event coordinator — have put together a unique exhibit of more than 100 physical and digital items that celebrate Shakespeare’s influence.
The University of Ottawa’s Shakespeare in Canada exhibit, which opened on April 1, is spread across three campus locations: Desmarais, Morisset and Simard, as well as online.
Long before Sir Alec Guinness swung a light sabre as Obi-Wan Kenobi, he wielded a sword performing the title role in Shakespeare’s Richard III during the early days of the Stratford Festival. That sword is among rare items from the Canada Theatre Museum in Toronto on display in the Archives and Special Collections Room in Morisset. Other precious props and costumes provided by the Stratford Festival archives are also on display there.
Unique gems, like a poster for a Shakespeare production aboard the HMS Resolute as it searched for the remains of the Franklin expedition in the 1850s and other items, can be seen in Simard and Desmarais.
“We also found a little celebrity history at the University of Ottawa Archives — our very own Alex Trebek was in a Shakespeare production here,” Ashburner said. “I won’t say which one. You’ll have to check out the exhibitions to find out.”
The students sought advice from digital humanities librarian Nancy Lemay on best practices for creating a rich online component that complements the physical items.
“Digital humanities have given us the opportunity to spread our exhibition in various ways,” Huot said.
All three students said the leadership, project management, research, curation, cataloguing and metadata skills they learned in their information studies courses really helped them bring the exhibit to life.
“The world of information science is one of collaboration,” Huot said. “We’re realizing that there are thousands of ways to present archival documents online and make them accessible. It’s amazing to see that, even though Shakespeare has been dead for 400 years, he’s still a topic of interest and it’s still possible to present his work and influence creatively with these kinds of digital tools.”
For Horava, seeing the theory taught in information studies classes applied practically is extremely rewarding.
“What these students have accomplished is remarkable. They are making history and literature come alive in the digital age. They should be very proud of their work. I know all of their professors are,” he said.