Where Are We Now? Exhibition on the Alumni of the Shakespeare Institute

This month’s Library exhibition showcases the careers of some of the Institute’s alumni. They are an eclectic bunch, pursuing a variety of illustrious paths in all corners of the globe including Australia, Japan, South Korea as well as those who have remained closer to home. The exhibition features information written by the individuals themselves on where they are now as well as a selection of the significant body of work that they have produced between them over the years.

Looking at the paths our alumni have taken is of interest for many reasons: it is good to see the many ways in which an academic career can pan out; it is great to see how everyone still maintains their links with the Institute, across the world and across the decades and how they remember it with affection; and of course, it is just lovely to hear again of people we remember ourselves, either as fellow students, colleagues and library users.

For instance, for me, Dong-ha Seo stands out as a fellow student as, back in 2004, we found our ‘Shakespeare feet’ with Drs Wiggins, Jowett , Richardson et al on the now much-missed and late-lamented  MASSACHRE course. So to see pictures of his growing family and to hear where he is now, a Lieutenant Colonel in the Korean Army teaching Shakespeare to English major cadets I found especially interesting. Look forward to your promised visit next year Dong-ha!

Dong ha and the Shakespeare Institute Players

Dong-ha (back-left next to man in hat) and the Shakespeare Institute Players










Pete-OrfordPete Orford (who completed his PhD in 2006 and – I think also features in the photo above along with Don ha and other members of the Shakespeare Institute players) is a great example of how time spent working – and playing – at the Shakespeare Institute can be usefully transferred to other areas of academia. Although now returning to his Shakespearean roots, since leaving the Institute Pete has worked extensively on Charles Dickens, editing several volumes and leading a highly successful  on-line project investigating Dickens last, unfinished novel, The Drood Inquiry. For more information – come and look at the exhibition!

Robert SmallwoodRobert Smallwood has been associated with the Institute since 1963 and is well-known to us library staff if for no other reason than that we are constantly re-shelving his books, including, among others, the six well-thumbed volumes of the Players of Shakespeare. And as editor of the MRHA Style Guide he must surely have made a vital contribution to many a PhD thesis – including my own. However, what I was surprised to learn from the exhibition was his vital role in history of the Shakespeare Institute itself, being a prime instigator in relocating the University of Birmingham’s postgraduate programmes in Shakespeare studies back to Stratford and Mason Croft. At the same time, he petitioned for the building of the new library in the gardens of the Institute, which is of course about to celebrate its 20th Anniversary later this month and we hope he will be here to help us celebrate.

Anyone who provides a cartoon of himself in lieu of a photo, refers to his latest academic rob conkietome as ‘groovy’ and ‘cool’ and whose over-riding memory of his time at the Shakespeare Institute is Marco’s sandwiches has got to be worth meeting. Unfortunately (for us that is), Rob Conkie is in Australia, slightly more than a hop, skip and jump (there must be some kangaroo related pun in there somewhere!) away from Stratford upon Avon, so we have to make do with his book on Shakespeare and Authenticity: The Globe Theatre Project, a chapter on ‘Australian Campus Shakespeare’ in a brand new volume edited by Andrew Hartley, Shakespeare on the University Stage – and of course to the groovy new book Writing Performative Shakespeares to which we look forward with eager anticipation.

Soko TomitaSoko Tomita took two leave of absences from her job in a college in Japan to study at the Shakespeare Institute – once as an MA student and then again, several years later, to undertake her PhD. Overcoming many difficulties, including working away from home, bringing up a young family and adjusting to a new way of approaching the study of literature – as well of course as adjusting to living in a new country – Soko published her first volume of A Bibliographical Catalogue of Italian Books Printed in England 1558–1603 in 2009 and the second volume, covering the period 1603-1642, in 2014.

The final alumnus to feature in this exhibition is Akihiro Yamada, born in 1929 in Nagoya in Japan. He first came to England to study at the Institute in Stratford in 1959 as an MA candidate. Upon completion, he returned to Japan but was back in Birmingham in 1974 to work on his PhD on the plays of George Chapman. In between these two periods at the Institute, Akihiro also spent a year in the United States as a Fellow at the Folger Shakespeare Library, where he edited an edition of Chapman’s The Widow’s Tears for the Revels Plays.  Since returning to Japan, he has held three academic posts at Japanese universities, spanning forty seven years. He has published fifteen books on Elizabethan and Jacobean topics in Japanese and English, including editing The First Folio of YamadaShakespeare, a transcription of the extensive contemporary marginalia in a copy of the First Folio now held at Meisei University Library.  Professor Yamada has been a great benefactor to the Shakespeare Institute Library over the years, donating many items including an extensive (and unique) microfilm collection of early English drama. Among the numerous books also gifted from Professor Yamada’s library are some early printed editions, a selection of which are currently on display as part of this exhibition. These valuable treasures include a 1611 edition of Spencer’s Faeirie Queene, a 1700 edition of The Works of Abraham Cowley and a 1725 edition of Alexander Pope’s Odessey of Homer.

All of the former students featured in this exhibition are a wonderful demonstration of the affection in which they hold their years at the Shakespeare Institute and the connections which have been maintained, in some cases, over many decades. For those of us who have not been around for quite so long, it is a great opportunity to learn a little about the history of the study of Shakespeare at the Institute and to put a face to the names that we see so often on the Library shelves. It goes without saying of course, that all of the books mentioned above are held in the Shakespeare Institute Library collections.

Dr Jill Francis, Library Support Assistant




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