The British Playbill Project

Anastasia in front of laptop




Project Summary

This summer I worked with Dr. Gamer’s team to assist in the creation of a database for 18th to 19th century playbills, predominantly from the United Kingdom. My tasks included creating database entries using playbills from Penn and the British Library’s collection, running Optical Character Recognition (OCR) on playbill images, writing programs to assist in running and downloading the OCR files, and writing programs to assist searching through the playbill files. For database entries, I spent most of my time cataloguing playbills from 1795 - 1811 Theatre Market Drayton and had taken notes on particular trends or on unique documents.

Theatre in this era served as far more beyond entertainment, providing a visual education on global events, local relationships, technological advances, combining the media functions of modern prime time television, newscasts, etcetera. People of all class levels and backgrounds would enter into one building to both escape from the world and to discover it, and these playbills provide a glimpse into their lives on both a personal and global scale. . Theatrical performances were also constantly evolving due to government restrictions and audience demands.  Each playbill mass produced for each day’s performance, marks the stories not only of what was produced and when, but the stories that led to this point.

Through this mentorship, not only did I gain a basic knowledge of 18th and 19th century theatre history, but I also gained a new programming skill set - particularly in Python itself, json encoding and decoding, and file manipulation - as well as a deeper appreciation for the deeper information found in a single page of advertisement.