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Dr. Stephen Wittek

stephen [dot] wittek [at] mcgill [dot] ca

Office: 3610 McTavish, Rm 16-4 (1st floor)


Dr. Stephen Wittek is a scholar of early modern theatre and early modern news culture. He holds a PhD in literature from McGill and a Master's degree in Shakespeare Studies from the Shakespeare Institute in Stratford-Upon-Avon, England. In 2013, he won a Joseph-Armand Bombardier CGS Doctoral Scholarship, the highest and most prestigious award offered by the Canadian federal funding agency (SSHRC). His work as a Postdoctoral Fellow for the Early Modern Conversions (EMC) project entails digital humanities research and more conventional research focusing on the relationship of conversion to cities, news, and the early modern stage. In addition to serving on the EMC Management Committee, he is co-leader, with José R. Jouve-Martin, of the 'Early Modern Cities as Theatres of Conversion' research sub-group.

Dr. Wittek is the author of The Media Players: Shakespeare, Middleton, Jonson, and the Idea of News (forthcoming from the University of Michigan Press)With the goal of establishging a more thorough understanding of the central, formative function of Shakespeare’s theatre in the news culture of early modern England, the project combines historical research with recent developments in public sphere theory, and argues that the unique discursive space created by commercial theatre helped to foster the conceptual framework that made news possible. In Spring 2015, the Journal Studies in English Literature will publish an article deriving from the project entitled, "Middleton's A Game at Chess and the Making of a Theatrical Public." Recent presentations connected to Dr. Wittek's work on theatre and news include a lecture for the Lawrence D. Stokes Seminar at Dalhousie University, where he was an invited speaker, and an hour-long episode of the CBC Radio One program Ideas, which showcased Dr. Wittek’s research as part of the 'Ideas from the Trenches' series (available for streaming or download here: http://www.cbc.ca/ideas/episodes/2014/06/05/ideas-from-the-trenches-the-theatre-of-news/).

Dr. Wittek's monograph-in-progress, Shakespeare, Memory, and the Media Ecology of Early Modern London, builds on the ideas in The Media Players, and also connects to the research on cognition and cities that he has conducted over the past year for the Early Modern Conversions project. Taking a cue from the growing body of work on ‘cognitive ecologies,’ the project asks how the multimedia environment of early modern London fostered new sorts of mnemonic practices and new opportunities for social transformation. Theatre presents a propitious focus for a study of this dynamic system, not only because drama brings a formal pressure to bear on problems of identity and memory, but also because the playwrights of the period repeatedly grappled with similar questions. The texts at the centre of Dr. Wittek's inquiry are Hamlet, The Tempest, Richard II, and Sir Thomas More, but his analysis also extends to street ballads, news pamphlets, sermons, verse libels, and a rich array other interconnected vehicles for making, experiencing, and remembering in London’s media ecology. 

On the digital humanities front, Dr. Wittek is currently working with Stéfan Sinclair and Matt Milner to build DREaM, a database that will index 44,000+ early modern texts, thus making long-neglected material more amenable for use with large-scale analytical applications such as David Newman's Topic Modeling Tool and the suite of tools available on Voyant.org. The corpus comprises approximately one-third of all the titles in the Stationer’s Register and all of the texts transcribed thus far by The Text Creation Project, an initiative that aims to create standardized, accurate XML/SGML encoded full text editions of all documents available from Early English Books Online. In the past year, Dr. Wittek has given presentations on these endeavors at the meeting of the Shakespeare Association of America (St. Louis), the meeting of the Canadian Society for the Digital Humanities (St. Catherine's), and at St. Mary's University (Halifax). In March 2015, he will be a presenter for the 'Renaissance Studies + New Technologies' session at the meeting of the Renaissance Society of America in Berlin.

As noted above, Dr. Wittek is also co-leader with José R. Jouve-Martin of the 'Early Modern Cities as Theatres of Conversion' research sub-group, an initiative that endeavors to understand how early modern cities, courts, and playhouses became sites of performative transformation (religious, social, sexual, cultural, human-animal, material). In pursuit of this question, the group studies cities such as London, Venice, Madrid, Paris, and Lima/Cuzco, and considers how courtly and theatrical spatiality and culture attracted people to the metropolis from within national boundaries and across borders between nations, religions, and ethnic identities, affording migrants the chance to change themselves or be changed in radical ways. In 2014, Dr. Wittek and Prof. Jouve-Martin presented the work of the Cities group at an EMC workshop at Cambridge University (CRAASH), at the 'Narrative Conversions' workshop at the University of York, and at a special EMC panel for the Canadian Comparative Literature Association at the Congress of Learned Societies (St Catherine's). They also have future presentations planned for the 'Theatres of Conversion' workshop, which will take place at the Centre for Reformation and Renaissance Studies (CRRS) at Victoria University in the University of Toronto. Planning for a volume tentatively entitled Performing Conversion: Urbanism, Theatre, and the Transformation of the Early Modern World, to be co-edited by Dr. Wittek and Prof. Jouve-Martin, is currently underway.

At McGill, Dr. Wittek is the organizer and website administrator for The Shakespeare & Performance Research Team (SPRiTe), a group of scholars and theatrical professionals from McGill University and neighbouring Montréal institutions including Concordia University, the Université de Montréal, the Université du Québec à Montréal, Dawson College, and the National Theatre School. Since its inception in 1993, SPRiTe has worked to redefine established and foundational categories in Shakespeare studies by combining historical-literary scholarship with theatre history and performance studies. This work involves the organization of seminars for the presentation of new research, public outreach events, and regular collaboration with the McGill Drama and Theatre Program.