Would you like to help us?
Find out more No thanks
The British Library has launched In the Spotlight, an innovative crowdsourcing project focusing on its historical collections of printed playbills, from the late 18th century to the end of the 19th century. The website enables people to transcribe information about the playbills to improve the catalogue records for each item and make this historical collection more accessible to everyone.
Take part in the project at http://playbills.libcrowds.com
“In the Spotlight offers a way to immerse yourself into a world where theatre entertainments were the biggest show in town,” said Christian Algar, Curator of Printed Heritage Collections at the British Library. “Millions of playbills – posters on shop windows, or circulars passed about by hand – were printed to advertise an evening's programme of entertainment at nearby theatres. Just like today's ads, these historic playbills are visually engaging, even captivating. For modern readers, they're full of fun and useful information about how Britons were entertained in the past.”
In the Spotlight allows crowdsourcing volunteers to mark up and transcribe key details like play titles, specific performance dates, genres and (in the near future) names of actors. The details that people help capture will be uploaded to the British Library’s catalogue and online image viewer. Volunteers’ contributions will enhance the rudimentary entries for volumes of playbills that currently list only approximate dates and the names or locations of theatres. This will make it easier to access the nearly 100,000 digitised playbills for performances across Britain from the late 18th to late 19th centuries currently available online through Explore the British Library. The data recorded is also automatically available for anyone to download, visualise or use in their own research.
The site offers a discussion board where people can interact and draw attention to points of interest, raise questions, make noteworthy observations, share images and talk with other people who have contributed to the project.
Digital Curator Dr Mia Ridge said, “Crowdsourcing projects like this are an opportunity for people to enhance historical collections while getting a sense of everyday life in the past. There are hundreds of stories to uncover in these collections, and we're excited to see what people find as they look through the playbills. Designers might be interested in the fonts or illustrations, while theatre fans might enjoy the descriptions of scenery. We also hope In the Spotlight will inspire new research questions and new uses of the data by academics, community historians and the public alike.”
Christian Algar concluded “The playbills featured in this resource are an entertainment in themselves and are richly visual. Exploring In the Spotlight will allow people to see the development of the playbill from the plain typeset formula of the late 18th century playbill where the title of the play is the focus, through to the ‘Golden Age’ of the early Victorian playbill where the wider theatrical experience begins to top the bill, with illustrations and fancy typefaces dramatically announcing lavish sets, descriptions of the action on stage and even the price of currant buns on sale.”
The project launches with playbills from theatres in Margate, Plymouth, Bristol, Hull, Edinburgh, Dublin and more volumes will be added to http://playbills.libcrowds.com as the first volumes are completed.
Unless stated otherwise, media content on the press area of our website, including images, is protected by third-party rights such as copyright or trademarks. The British Library is permitted to make the content available to you for promoting associated British Library’s exhibitions, events or activities. If you are not using images to promote a British Library activity, you must clear all rights for your use of any in-copyright material beyond uses permitted under the Copyright Designs and Patents Act 1988.
Playbill, Theatre Royal, Bristol, 1820.
Playbill, Theatre Royal, Dublin, 1825.
Playbill, Cooke's Royal Circus, Edinburgh, 1840.
Playbill, Theatre Royal, Plymouth, 1836.
Undated playbill, Theatre Royal, Devonport, advertising a performance by Ira Aldridge ('The African Roscius')
Playbill, Dover, 1836.
Playbill, Dover, 1842.
Playbill, Devonport, 1834.
Playbill, Theatre Royal, Dover, 1842.
Playbill, New Theatre Royal, Hull, 1811.
Playbill, Theatre Royal, Margate, 1796.
The British Library is the national library of the United Kingdom and one of the world's greatest research libraries. It provides world class information services to the academic, business, research and scientific communities and offers unparalleled access to the world's largest and most comprehensive research collection. The Library's collection has developed over 250 years and exceeds 150 million separate items representing every age of written civilisation and includes books, journals, manuscripts, maps, stamps, music, patents, photographs, newspapers and sound recordings in all written and spoken languages. Up to 10 million people visit the British Library website - www.bl.uk - every year where they can view up to 4 million digitised collection items and over 40 million pages.