My name is Katherine Knowles, and I am a member of the CHI Fellows cohort for the 2021-2022 academic year. I am a third year PhD student in the English department here at MSU, and I am also pursuing the Digital Humanities Graduate Certificate. Previously, I have worked at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville as a Researcher and Project Manager in the IRIS Digital Humanities Center. Although I’m only in the comprehensive exam stage of my program and things may still change, my dissertation is tentatively titled “Bodies as Space: Imagining Place and Producing Heritage through Shakespeare’s Plays.” I received my MA in Shakespeare Studies from the University of Birmingham’s Shakespeare Institute in 2016, and I received my BA in English and Music from Hanover College in 2015. My research interests include early modern drama, cultural heritage, and affect theory.

As a scholar of early modern drama and performance, my work interrogates how affect is produced and maintained at theatre cultural heritage sites. I am interested in performance spaces; with artists and audiences not just enacting everyday life, but a curated performance of texts important to cultural memory that adds a new layer to spatial practice. Stratford-upon-Avon has become a popular site of performance and a space of cultural memory by reimagining the town as Shakespeare’s childhood home and how that would have impacted his writing, despite the fact he never wrote in Stratford. The famous cultural heritage industry that has defined the town for over a century is not necessarily a perfect recreation or representation of Shakespeare’s childhood in the town, but rather a construction of how the Victorians (and many people since) have imagined Shakespeare. Thus, the town has been transformed into a space of shared cultural memory through people’s interaction with the place. It is a produced space developed through the affective response of the people who pass through both the cultural heritage properties and through the town’s theatre.

By participating in the CHI Fellowship, I hope to develop a set of skills that will help me develop a method for representing affect digitally and provide the basis for a digital project that will serve as a chapter of my dissertation. Additionally, this fellowship will help expand my experience outside of the English department to more specifically operate within a framework distinct to cultural heritage. I hope to someday work in a heritage institution related to literary heritage and performance, and I believe that the CHI program will help me articulate the importance of the interaction of tangible and intangible heritage and attempt to represent this important synthesis digitally. This fellowship will not only provide me with practical experience in developing a digital project designed for engaging with the public through cultural heritage, but also in a way that is mindful and encourages ethical research practices.

The ultimate goal of this project is to find ways to develop a visualization that will convey the affective atmospheres of these locations in Stratford-upon-Avon rather than merely provide artifacts that can be experienced visually. By layering affect onto visualizations, those who interact with them also take in the information as it is mediated by the emotions and also in physiological ways outside of seeing. In mediating the history of these places digitally, I hope to develop a project that will represent the changes in the affective atmospheres throughout times as different bodies–including a multitude of gender identities, BIPOC, and disabled bodies–are allowed access to these spaces in ways that were historically unthinkable. The shared stories, memories, and heritage of these spaces are much more than their physical locations, and this project will demonstrate how these elements are constructed. Currently, I imagine this project developing as a deep map of the affective atmospheres of these places. Users will be able to see how these sites all connect across space and time to develop a complex and nuanced narrative of the theatrical cultural heritage of Renaissance England. 

Of course, as I work my way through the fellowship my project ideas will most likely change. I look forward to comparing this first blog post with my final one to see how things evolve throughout the year.