Thinking like Shakespeare: Dr. Scott Newstok talks about education, research, and the humanities

by Meghan Burke

Dr. Scott Newstok, Professor of English at Rhodes College in Memphis Tennessee visited Marymount on Tuesday, April 9 for two events: a lecture on his recent research into “How to think like Shakespeare” and a colloquium about the Folger Shakespeare Library on Capitol Hill with Humanities graduate students. I had the pleasure of attending both events with Dr. Newstok.  

Dr. Newstok talks to students in Dr. Rippy's EN429: Topics in Performance (Global Classroom)

Dr. Newstok talks to students in Dr. Rippy’s EN429: Topics in Performance (Global Classroom)

The presentation, “Thinking with Shakespeare’s Islands” provided much food for thought. In it, Dr. Newstok proposed that the island imagery in Shakespeare’s plays (the most obvious being The Tempest which takes place on an island) can make us think about how we create our own islands.  Personal islands can form in our education, or they can be the institutions of education themselves.  The students who attended the talk offered insight into their own “islands” and offered suggestions on how they can or could move outside of their islands to make connections.  

The conversation continued in the evening when the graduate students met with Dr. Newstok to talk about opportunities for involvement at the Folger Shakespeare Library.  The Folger offers a variety of programs and research opportunities to students and professionals on a myriad of subjects. The discussion proved fruitful for students in attendance, who discussed internships and job opportunities.  

I found the conversation interesting for another reason.  While I am a graduate student in the Humanities program, I am also a librarian at Marymount.  During my graduate program in library and information science I completed an internship in cataloging at the Folger.  I had only approached the Folger from a librarian’s perspective, and it was interesting to hear about it from the perspective of a researcher.

During our discussion that evening, I found myself returning to the idea of islands in Dr. Newstok’s earlier talk in relation to the work of librarians and researchers at academic libraries.  Libraries and librarians can be seen as islands. We do our own work and generate our own data about collections. Often, our data exist in silos, individual library catalogs that are not crawled by search engines or (even worse) in card catalogs only accessible to those with physical access to them.  At the same time, researchers also exist on their own islands, tirelessly combing through mountains of documents and text, discovering aspects of the text that are crucial to understanding it.

A comment by Dr. Newstok really brought this into focus.  He asked what librarians think about scholars linking back to a library record on a website for example, in order to enhance it, to add more meaning.  My answer was a simple yes, but I asked that the original link be to the carefully curated metadata librarians create to describe the object. The descriptive information librarians create and the analytic and creative research done by academics is not meant to exist in isolation, but to be complementary.  Rather than existing as islands, the information held in libraries should be discoverable and informative, enhanced by the research of those who are passionate about its contents, and described in a way that makes it easy to locate. With more conversations such as our colloquium, and less “island thinking,” it is my hope that we can create an archipelago between the existing library metadata and the information of those the libraries serve.  

I would like to thank Dr. Newstok for sharing his time, information, and insights with the Marymount community.    

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