April 27, 2011

Washington, D.C.—Michael Witmore, a scholar of Shakespeare and early modern literature as well as a pioneer in the digital analysis of Shakespeare’s texts, has been named director of the Folger Shakespeare Library, the sixth in the library’s 79-year history. He takes office on July 1, 2011. Witmore’s appointment was announced today by the Folger Board of Governors and the Trustees of Amherst College, who administer the Folger under the will of the library’s founder, Henry Clay Folger. Whitmore succeeds Gail Kern Paster who retires at the end of June after nine years at the Folger’s helm. 


Of the appointment, Paul Ruxin ’65, chair of the Folger Board of Governors, says, “We are very excited that Mike has accepted our offer to serve the Folger as its next director. I believe he is someone with the potential to be a truly ‘transformative’ leader, who can take the Folger to new levels of excellence in all of the areas to which its mission statement dedicates it.”

“We are fortunate indeed to have a scholar and leader of Mike’s caliber to build on the foundation that Gail Paster has laid,” adds Anthony W. Marx, president of Amherst. “He will undoubtedly further burnish the jewel that is the Folger and bring further credit to Amherst as the custodian of that jewel.”

“One of the things that Shakespeare does best is to make life more vivid. The humanities also have a vivifying force, delivering the diversity and complexity of human experience to our collective powers of sympathy, critical thought, and imagination,” notes Witmore.  “As humanists, scholars, actors and audiences, we will continue to find Shakespeare and the period in which he lived important: the Folger will be an exciting place to see that future unfold. It is an institution whose unique cultural and intellectual strengths I admire and whose impressive resources I look forward to stewarding in the years to come.”

Witmore is professor of English at the University of Wisconsin, where he has taught since 2008. Prior to that, he was an associate professor of English at Carnegie Mellon University. In addition, Witmore directs the Working Group for Digital Inquiry, a group of humanists who use computers to assist in traditional humanities research; currently, they are mapping the prose genres of early English books online using techniques from bioinformatics and corpus linguistics. He is co-winner of the Perkins Prize for the Study of Narrative as well as the recipient of numerous fellowships, including an Andrew Mellon Postdoctoral Fellowship at the University of California, Los Angeles; research and curatorial fellowships at the Folger; and a predoctoral fellowship at the Max-Planck-Institut für Wissenschaftsgeschichte in Berlin. He was awarded (but declined) an ACLS Digital Innovation Fellowship for the academic year 2011–2012. Witmore earned an A.B. in English at Vassar College, and an M.A. and Ph.D. in rhetoric at the University of California, Berkeley.

His most recent book, Landscapes of the Passing Strange: Reflections from Shakespeare (2010), a collaboration with noted writer and photographer Rosamond Purcell, was inspired by a painting in the Folger reading room that Witmore saw while at the library on a research fellowship. It is also the subject of a Folger exhibition in the fall of 2012, tentatively entitled Very Like a Whale, which Witmore will co-curate.

Witmore is also the author of Shakespearean Metaphysics (2008); Pretty Creatures: Children and Fiction in the English Renaissance (2007); Culture of Accidents: Unexpected Knowledges in Early Modern England (2001); and co-editor of Childhood and Children’s Books in Early Modern Europe, 1550-1800 (2006), having produced numerous articles, book chapters and website resources. He currently has several books in progress, including Shakespeare by the Numbers and Other Tales from the Digital Frontier, with Jonathan Hope, and Wisdom and the Book of Experience. He is also textual editor of The Comedy of Errors for The Norton Shakespeare

Of her successor, Paster says, “The appointment of Michael Witmore as the next director of the Folger is a brilliant one. He is a Shakespeare scholar with broad interdisciplinary interests, great creative energy, and an eloquent understanding of the critical role the humanities will play in our nation’s future. I know he is the right person to lead this great library into the heart of the twenty-first century.

The Folger Shakespeare Library is a world-renowned center for scholarship, learning, culture, and the arts. It is home to the world’s largest Shakespeare collection and a primary repository for rare materials from the early modern period (1500–1750). The Folger is an internationally recognized research library offering advanced scholarly programs in the humanities; an innovator in the preservation of rare materials; a national leader in how Shakespeare is taught in grades K–12; and an award-winning producer of cultural and arts programs—theater, music, poetry, exhibits, lectures, and family programs. By promoting understanding of Shakespeare and his world, the Folger reminds us of the enduring influence of his works, the formative effects of the Renaissance on our own time, and the power of the written and spoken word. A gift to the American people from industrialist Henry Clay Folger, the Folger—located one block east of the U.S. Capitol—opened in 1932. Learn more at www.folger.edu.

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