History of the Hamlet Art Database
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Thursday, 22 April 2010 19:31
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Welcome |  History |  Description of Database |  Database as teaching and research tool |  Desiderata |  Sample Records |  MIT Shakespeare Projects |  Some differences between MIT art materials and Hamlet Art Database |  Additional reading material |  Brief biography of database compiler

To facilitate research for a planned book on “Hamlet and the Visual Arts, 1709-1900,” I have created a database in which to record information about images related to Hamlet that dated from between 1709, the date of the earliest known image of a Hamlet subject, and 1900. This latter was a rather arbitrary date but had the advantage of allowing the early history of photography to be included. My plan was to include digitized images of all the works I found, but initially I was unable to identify a satisfactory "off-the-shelf" database program that would run on a laptop PC. As an interim solution, I used PCFile, an easy-to-use DOS-based program. An advantage of this was that its files (*.dbf, and *.dbt) were easily transportable to other database programs. One drawback, however, was that its sorting and reporting/printing abilities were somewhat cumbersome, though still workable, something that led to some interesting discussions with the Folger Library registrar, who, whenever I visited the Library, was using PCFile to keep track of readers. The primary drawback of PCFile, however, was that it did not accommodate digitized images.
Over a period of several years, my database grew as I spent periods of time working at various museums and libraries, chief among which were the British Library (and Print Room), the Folger Shakespeare Library, the London Theatre Museum and Library, the Mander and Mitchenson Theatre Collection, the Seymour Theatre Collection at Princeton, the Royal Shakespeare Company Theatre Gallery (Stratford-upon-Avon), the Shakespeare Centre Library (Stratford-upon-Avon), and the Victoria and Albert Museum and Library. In time, I had collected information concerning just over 2000 images. With the assistance of a grant from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada, I was in a position to attempt to acquire photographs of the works I had identified. My plan was to obtain 35mm colour slides whenever possible. These could then be digitized using the Kodak system and placed on compact disks, up to 100 images per disk, each image being available in six different versions, the smallest at 64 x 96 and the largest at 2048 x 3072. The largest of these versions would easily permit the researcher to read the fine print below an engraving or study some detail within the picture itself. I hoped that when I found the right database program, I would be able to make links to the images on a stack of CDs placed in a storage "tower" and so save hard drive space.
My plans were seriously impeded, however, when I discovered that most institutions would not supply colour slides (although some would agree to lend slides). In addition, some wanted a very high price for slides, but, even more daunting, most institutions would not permit anything to be digitized, even for "research-only" projects. However, a number of institutions generously agreed to permit me to digitize material. Chief among these were the Folger Shakespeare Library, the Mander and Mitchenson Theatre Collection, the Royal Shakespeare Theatre Gallery, and the Shakespeare Centre Library. Because the Folger Shakespeare Library possessed, as far as I could tell, a far great number of works relevant to my project than any other institution, I then decided (with the Library's encouragement) to attempt to record and digitize all the Folger Hamlet images for the period 1709-1900. When this decision was made, the project took on an independent life of its own and plans for a book were put on hold, even though I felt I already had enough material to begin writing it.
The decision to concentrate upon the Folger material was one encouraged by Peter Donaldson at MIT. He suggested that the database become part of MIT's Shakespeare Electronic Archive, which initially was to be  limited for the most part to Hamlet materials -- texts, films, etc.. The database would thus become available to others, alongside other materials relevant to the study of Hamlet. Because it was hoped to set up the Shakespeare Electronic Archive at the Folger as well as at MIT, the inclusion of all the Folger images was especially appropriate. Researchers there would be able to identify images of interest to them. If the information supplied by the database was insufficient, the original could be called up using the call-number included in the database.
As work proceeded, members of Peter Donaldson's MIT team suggested that I change to another database. Although I had tried switching to Microsoft Access, I had had to reject this program. It certainly permitted links to my CDs, but it insisted on storing a copy of each image within the database files. These latter quickly became too large to be comfortably manageable on my laptop computer. My attention was then directed to FileMaker Pro. This appeared to be a favourite program with the MIT team since it was available for both Mackintosh and PC platforms. Because it was helpful for me to be using the same software, I made the switch. In doing so, an important compromise had to be made. MIT had hopes of being able to make the Archive available online. To keep the database small and workable, and to provide speedy web access to images, the decision was made to make relatively low-resolution jpeg images from all the Kodak pcd images that I had collected of Folger materials (the MIT team did this laborious job). The FileMaker Pro database currently on my computer contains just over 2000 records, about 1500 of these pertain to Folger Shakespeare Library items. The database file is 151 MBs in size, and the jpeg image files (of Folger works only) add another 97 MBs. For reference purposes I still have my CDs containing the higher resolution Kodak pcd images. To facilitate access to this, the database includes a field listing the identity number of the CD and the relevant image number on that CD.
Further Information

* detailed description of database
* key differences between the database and the MIT version, sample pages of which are provided elsewhere
* desiderata

Last Updated on Wednesday, 28 April 2010 20:20