Author Biography

Janine Barchas is Professor of English at the University of Texas, Austin. Her most recent book is Matters of Fact in Jane Austen: History, Location, and Celebrity (Johns Hopkins UP). She is the creator of the digital heritage project “What Jane Saw” (www.whatjanesaw.org). She is currently co-curating an exhibition at the Folger Shakespeare Library called “Will & Jane.” This upcoming exhibition in fall 2016 compares Shakespeare’s early Georgian celebrity (200 years into his “afterlife”) with Austen’s popularity today.


This essay reports on ongoing efforts to build an accurate digital model of John Boydell’s popular Shakespeare Gallery precisely as it looked in August 1796—when a 20-year-old Jane Austen visited London’s sites, staying within a ten-minute walk from the gallery. The essay argues for the substantial difference between studying Boydell’s pictures in a paper volume (whether as lists, illustrations in books, or engraved folio plates) and viewing them as an exhibition of paintings on walls, albeit virtual ones. For example, the digital reconstruction illuminated commissions from several female participants in Boydell’s male-dominated gallery, especially Angelica Kauffman (1741-1807) and Anne Seymour Damer (1749-1828). In addition, the essay also recounts how the celebrity of model Emma Hart/Hamilton (1765-1815) safeguarded one Boydell painting from oblivion while The Shakespeare Gallery proved the site of a strange form of self-promotion practiced by actress Mary Wells (1762-1829). Our digital visualization of an historic exhibition in 1796 brought the controversial celebrity of a few women artists into focus. In sum, this essay shows DH methodology in action while sampling what might be gleaned when digital tools serve historical scholarship in the humanities.


digital humanities, digital heritage, museum recreation, Georgian spectacle, John Boydell, Shakespeare Gallery, female artists, Angelica Kauffman (1741-1807), Anne Seymour Damer (1749-1828), Emma Hart/Hamilton (1765-1815), Mary Wells (1762-1829)