Starting at the End

These last few weeks have been particularly action-packed and exciting for me. As a Scripps senior, I’m getting down to the wire on my senior thesis, not to mention thinking about my future, and managing my extra-curricular activities. But in the whirl of editing papers and reading all of A Passage to India for class on time, I’ve been most eagerly anticipating and preparing for the premiere of my first ever archive exhibit this Monday, April 14 all about Shakespeare in honor of his 450th birthday.

To be perfectly honest, being a CCEPS archival fellow has been a dream come true. I’ve been an archival fellow before – twice before, in fact – but both projects were in digital humanities, and about the process of creating a virtual space that eases the archiving process and organizes old information in new, exciting ways (such as being able to search for the concept of illness in a text instead of just the word “influenza”). Going back to basics, as it were, by designing a physical exhibit with display cases and objects viewed side by side by side was something I’d never done before and had always wanted to do. And with Shakespeare as my case study?! Perfect.

Among my many interests, Shakespeare and English theatre is high on my list, and the volumes of materials relating to him are many, especially in Claremont’s Special Collections. The processes of digging through the archives, researching the materials I’ve found, finding a theme or narrative to use to have the exhibit tell a story, and narrowing down my topic, designing the exhibit, providing captions, organizing PR and publicity, and finally, installing the exhibit have each presented fun and challenging conundrums, and cool finds. Given that I’ve just completed the installation process, I’ll start at the very end, and talk about what that has been like. Each week’s new post will be a reflection on each step of this process.

Installing an exhibit is possibly the dirtiest and most chaotic part of the process. This is where trial and error has come most into play; seeing how the items fit together in their cases, what works visually and what does not, which cases might need more items after all, and remembering that bibliographic and contextual captions do indeed take up space. It has required me to dust off my aesthetic side and think about how the way things are organized and arranged influence what information viewers will take away from the exhibit. The items need to be visible, obviously, and lead the eye from one point to another, all the while presenting an underlying idea or concept.

I actually revised an entire case because of this. The case now entitled “Jubilees” was originally called “Places of Performance”, and would have been filled with photographs and illustrations of all of the theatres in the United States and England that I’ve compiled, in order to provide a comparison and contrast across the pond. However, that left items for celebrating Shakespeare completely homeless. And more importantly, these places of performance would be in the case next to the door, making it the first case people would notice. I needed something that was not only more eye-catching, but that provided the thesis of the exhibit while tempting the viewer to look further. Given that this exhibit is celebrating Shakespeare’s 450th birthday, as well as the celebrations in his honor throughout the centuries, jubilees was a much more appropriate theme. The places of performance went to other cases, and sure enough, the lovely illustration of the Shakespeare Jubilee in 1769 has already made passersby stop to look at what’s new in the cases.

I’m thrilled to host the launch for this exhibit this upcoming Monday, and look forward to receiving feedback from people once the exhibit goes live. I’ll be wearing yellow stockings for the occasion!