Launching "A Player and a Gentleman"

19 Apr 2013

Posted by naomi

We are thrilled to announce our project A Player and a Gentleman: The Diary of Harry Watkins, Nineteenth-Century American Actor—a critical edition of American stage actor Harry Watkins’s expansive diary. From 1845 to 1860, Watkins recorded his daily activities, the roles he performed, the plays he saw, the people he met, the books he read, and his impressions of current events. Watkins was an excellent storyteller and he took pride in expressing himself with acuity, wit, and humor, and our goal is to make his gifts available to readers interested in antebellum American theatre, culture, and everyday life in order to enhance our collective understanding of US history. To provide the greatest access of the wide range of information from Watkins’s writing to the public, our team of both established and emerging scholars will transcribe his diary (nearly 1,200 pages in thirteen volumes); select passages which are deemed most relevant and interesting to researchers, students, and general readers in order to create a single annotated edition; and maintain an online portal showcasing multimedia material, links to other resources, a searchable index, and a digital facsimile of the full manuscript.

Since beginning the project in 2012, we have secured funding from a PSC-CUNY Enhanced Research Award, which has funded initial work and digital scans of Watkins’s diary from the Harvard University Theatre Collection. Our transcription policy has been devised and tested, research assistants have been trained to ensure efficiency and consistency as they work with the diary in earnest. In addition to this, we have also spent time learning and navigating the intricacies of XML encoding in order to create manuscripts that will support both the print and digital editions reflecting the best practices established by the Association for Documentary Editing (ADE). One of the goals for the coming year is to complete transcriptions of 500 manuscript pages, proofread 250 manuscript pages, conduct research in Boston and the UK, and submit additional funding applications to sustain the work to its completion.

When the project is complete, we will have provided researchers and teachers with improved access—both in print and digital form—to this unique resource, which is the only known diary of its size and scope written by an American actor during the decade prior to the Civil War. The print and online versions of A Player and a Gentleman will enable a wide range of readers to view antebellum American theatre, culture, and everyday life in a new light, and will inspire fresh scholarship that will enhance our collective understanding of US history. Because Watkins offers a fascinating glimpse of what it was like to be an American artist during this time, the edition will enable scholars to identify gaps in our knowledge about antebellum theatre culture and also allow students and general readers to understand better the trials and tribulations of daily life during one of the most tumultuous periods in US history.