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Posted 06/27/03, by Tamara Steinert
Conference explores creation of international web database
Thousands of Spanish plays, inaccessible to scholars in Spain for more than 70 years, will be digitally repatriated this year through an international initiative led by Dartmouth's Baker-Berry Library and the Department of Spanish and Portuguese.
The library and the department are leading an effort to create a global cyberlibrary of modern Spanish drama integrating materials owned by seven participating institutions, including Yale, Harvard and Oberlin in the United States, and several Spanish libraries and universities. Organizers say the resulting catalog - and, eventually, full-text digital library - will be a great resource for people across many disciplines.
"The problem with 19th century Spanish theater is that there are thousands and thousands of items, but no one knows what the corpus is," said Miguel Valladares, the librarian leading the effort. "The idea is to create a common catalog where we can identify the total number of publications that exist all over the world."
Dartmouth's role has been to coordinate the electronic initiative. The College's own collection of Spanish drama is one of the largest in the world, with more than 15,000 volumes (see "Dartmouth's Mysterious Collection," page 3). The library recently completed cataloging the collection after nearly four years of work by librarians and 10 student assistants.
To celebrate the completion of the massive project, the College hosted a conference on Spanish drama this spring that attracted specialists in Spanish theater, as well as librarians and curators of special theater collections, according to Associate Professor of Spanish and Portuguese Marsha Swislocki. Besides the usual panel discussions and presentations of papers, the event included a performance of the 1902 musical comedy San Juan de Luz, by Carlos Arniches and José Jackson Veyán. The play was selected from the collection and performed by students in the Modern Spanish Theater seminar. An exhibit of books and materials in the Baker Library Corridor also was part of the celebration.
"This conference was really a wonderful collaboration among faculty, staff and students of Dartmouth College," Swislocki said.
The event also gave representatives from the various institutions the opportunity to flesh out the idea of a cyber library. The coalition decided that they could have the digital library functioning as early as next spring, when an inaugural event will be held in Spain. In the meantime, the organizers face the challenge of creating common standards for organizing the information that will make sense across cultural boundaries.
"We didn't want this to be a project about Dartmouth alone. We want to be able to share our work and collaborate with other institutions," Valladares said.
While a collection of Spanish drama might seem very specialized, Valladares and Swislocki emphasize that it will be an invaluable tool from a cultural studies viewpoint.
"Drama was like the television of the 19th century. It reflected the real world from a fictional point of view. When you read the plays in the collection, you get a sense of what it was like to live in Spain then," Valladares said. For example, one presenter at the recent conference analyzed the ways a particular conflict was portrayed in 30 plays, thus giving modern scholars insight into the opinions of the playwrights and their contemporaries.
Dartmouth's collection is the most extensively catalogued collection in the United States, according to Swislocki, who first suggested the project to Valladares. With the global database, similar bibliographical information for works all over the world will be available at one web portal.
The full text of all the plays eventually will be available digitally. In the meantime, scholars can request digitized versions of materials they find in the catalog from the institutions that own the physical originals.
Valladares said the worldwide catalog is not just about preserving history. "This project is really more about the future than the past," he said.
- Tamara Steinert
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