History of the Project
The idea for this site dates back to 2014, when Anne Harlow, then Temple’s Music and Dance Librarian, and Steve Newman met at a Digital Philly Unconference, and I asked if anyone would be interested in working on a Beggar’s Opera Digital Humanities site that would include a scholarly edition of the text, historical contexts, and audio and visual components that would include our own performance. Anne responded enthusiastically. That it has taken this long to launch the site is a testament to the persistence of the team, the other demands of our full-time jobs, and the complications that invariably arise in projects of this sort.
Our next step was to sketch out our vision for the site and to begin consulting with those who knew how to put such projects together. By early 2016, we were ready to apply for a Presidential Humanities and Arts Research Grant to fund performances and training in coding in TEI and MEI. At this point, Marcus DeLoach, a faculty member in Voice and Opera, had joined our team, along with Kristina DeVoe, the subject librarian in English. With Marcus, we began planning performances of The Beggar’s Opera and with Kristina, we began doing interviews and other ways of gathering information on the best ways for a website to engage with an audience.
Our first performance was at Temple’s Paley Library’s Lunchtime Beyond the Notes series on March 8, 2017. Steve wrote the introductory material and helped select the songs, and Marcus directed and coached the singers from Temple’s Voice and Opera program, with Corey Bonar as Macheath, Frances Collins-Tamargo as Lucy Lockit, Julia Costa as Polly Peachum, and Andrew Payne as the Beggar, along with Ben Katz on the harpsichord.
This was the core of the cast for our second performance, at Bruton Parish Church in Williamsburg, Virginia, on October 7, 2017. There were some significant additions, however. Brandon McShaffrey, a faculty member in Musical Theater, joined to help with choreography. We also expanded the cast to include Mr. Peachum (Ryan Daly) and Mrs. Peachum (Abbey Weinstein) and added Eric Just on the recorder. This performance, funded in part through the generosity of Dean Robert Stroker of the Boyer College of Music and Dance, is the one available on our site. Getting to stage these scenes at Bruton Parish Church was particularly significant since merely a few hundred yards away on June 16, 1770, both George Washington and Thomas Jefferson attended a performance of The Beggar’s Opera (see our Stage/Page exhibition).
As we were diving into the performance of The Beggar’s Opera, we continued to develop our coding skills and to scope out the site itself. Steve and Alex Wermer-Colan, who already had considerably experience on other digital projects, attended the Digital Mitford Coding School at the University of Pittsburgh-Greensburg in 2018. Upon returning from the conference and fortified with a Grant-in-Aid as well as a grant from the College of Liberal Arts, we started determining what platform we would use, where the site might be hosted, and the editorial principles for the scholarly text at the heart of the project. By this point, Jack Krick had joined to share his skills both in coding and in hosting websites. Anne coded the airs using Derovio and Sibelius; Steve, Fred, and Jack did the initial coding of the TEI, with Fred taking the lead on many technical aspects, including coding locations and, in consultation with Alex, worked on how to convert the TEI into online text, using TEI-Boilerplate (TEI-BP) and other possibilities. By the middle of 2020, the basic TEI text was coded. But the team knew that we did not know how we would solve the problem of integrating the MEI and TEI. We consulted with Marcus Bingenheimer from the Religion Department at Temple and then with Raffaelle Viglianti at the University of Maryland. Raffaele generously gave of his time and then consulted for us, advising us on how to deal with various problems in design and validation and to construct an ODD. Becca Fülöp, who succeeded Anne as the Music and Dance Librarian, joined the team in the Spring of 2022 and revised the Sibelius files. Around the same time, we began working with Lou Fuiano of Rowhouse Studios in order to design the website in its current form.