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Thoughts on the JISC/NEH Grant Announcement at the Folger

March 26, 2008 | By Brett Bobley

Yesterday, I attended a ceremony over at the Folger Shakespeare Library. The occasion was NEH Chairman Bruce Cole announcing the winners of the first JISC/NEH Transatlantic Digitization Collaboration Grants. The Director of the Folger, Gail Kern Paster, also spoke, as did the Folger's Richard Kuhta, who is the director of one of the funded projects, the "Shakespeare Quartos Archive." Also in attendance were representatives from three of the other winning projects, including Greg Crane from Tufts, Linda Frueh from the Internet Archive, and Tom Elliott from the NYU Institute for the Study of the Ancient World. For a complete description of each grant, please check out the NEH press release. All told, a very impressive group of projects. Just before the ceremony, the Folger staff set up a display of three original Shakespeare quartos, including a copy of Titus Andronicus from 1594 of which there is only one copy in the world. (Yes, they made sure that the tea and snacks were served in a different room. Spills are not an option). Very, very cool.

The ceremony was great -- I was particularly impressed with the remarks of Richard Kuhta, the project director for the "Shakespeare Quartos Archive." Richard's project is a remarkable example of collaboration. Along with co-director Neil Fraistat of MITH, Richard was able to bring together the world's leading Shakespeare libraries (Folger, Huntington, British Library, Bodleian, Shakespeare Institute, National Library of Scotland, and the University of Edinburgh) to digitize and make available Shakespeare's quartos. That's quite an impressive international group. What I liked about Richard's comments was the way in which he really nailed what the grant call was all about:

The JISC/NEH initiative gave us the opportunity and the incentive to attempt a truly international, collaborative, digital project. The guidelines challenged us to think collectively about what was possible, and to realize a shared ambition. It was exactly the prompt we needed to launch a conversation that transformed geographically distant collections into partner institutions.

When we first started talking to our colleagues at JISC over a year ago, this kind of collaboration was precisely what we had in mind. Collaboration is difficult -- it requires extra effort to be successful. It is difficult on the funding end too -- it was a lot of work to put together joint grant guidelines with a funder from another country who has different policies and procedures. Jason Rhody of my ODH staff and Helen Agüera of the Division of Preservation and Access both put in a lot of extra time working with our JISC colleagues to get all the details in place. But the effort was worth it. And my belief is that these kinds of international grant calls can be a great way to inspire humanities collaborations that might not have happened otherwise.