Shakespeare and the Book and the Digital Age

Shakespeare and the Book is easy to navigate and explore, which is always desirable in a digital book exhibit.

Columbia University’s Rare Book and Manuscript Collection, in conjunction with the Columbia Center for New Media Teaching and Learning, curates this exhibit on Shakespeare’s first folio and the books that circulated before, during and after its publication in 1623. These groups emphasize the contextual history that took place co-contemporaneously with this inaugural date – “On those occasions when the Shakespeare first folio, the 1623 first printing in folio format of the collected works of William Shakespeare, is placed on display, it is generally shown in splendid isolation as one of the great treasures of the library,” the exhibition portal proclaims. What Columbia attempts to do is showcase not only the four folios in the university’s collection, but other books that were popular during these publication times.

David Scott Kastan curates the exhibit, entitled Shakespeare and the Book. The digital exhibit is quite easy to maneuver, and very intuitive. The portal page gives a broad description of the exhibit’s aims, which is to present Shakespeare’s folios within the context of other literature.

A navigation bar runs across the top of the exhibit's webpage, dividing it into historical periods that relate to the publication of the folios.

Coming, then to the main page, Columbia’s Rare Book and Manuscript Collection divides each section of the exhibit by time period, as seen by the navigation bar running horizontally at the top of the web page. One section is devoted to works that Shakespeare is known to have read or owned in his lifetime, including the Geneva Bible as well as works by Ovid and Edmund Spenser. Other sections include “Pre-First Folio Period Drama and Printers,” “First Folio Period Drama and Printers,” “Third Folio Period Drama and Printers” and “Fourth Folio Period Drama and Printers.”

The secondary navigation bar allows you to browse individual title pages of contemporaneous literature.

Clicking each section in the navigation bar brings you to a secondary navigation bar that allows you to browse several published books and plays that were popular to the desired period in time.

Kastan and the curatorial staff make it quite clear that their aim in putting this exhibit together is to show the breadth of their collection’s material. While they have several crown jewels in their library (and what else can you call Shakespeare’s folios?), they are interested in showing their cyber-audience the links those folios had to the publishing culture of post-Shakespearean England.

Photo Credits: All images courtesy of  Columbia University’s Rare Book and Manuscript Collection and the Columbia Center for New Media Teaching and Learning,


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