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New Horizons

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New Horizons

In late 1983, O. B. Hardison stepped down as Folger director to teach at Georgetown University, and the board appointed Werner Gundersheimer, professor of Italian Renaissance history at the University of Pennsylvania, to take the helm. Gundersheimer began by addressing some serious financial challenges caused in part by the recessionary inflation of the 1970s. The Folger Theatre Group was reincorporated as The Shakespeare Theatre at the Folger, an independent entity with support from the library; the Shakespeare Theatre moved to its own downtown location some years later. In addition to fund-raising and major capital campaigns, Gundersheimer strengthened the core functions of cataloging and acquisitions, added scholarly fellowships, and placed a new emphasis on exhibitions as both scholarly endeavors and public outreach. The PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction, which had arrived at the Folger in 1983, and new Folger Poetry Board readings marked a growing involvement with contemporary writers. In the mid-1990s came a new theater initiative, the award-winning Folger Theatre. During his tenure, Gundersheimer also encouraged a major expansion of the Folger’s educational programs for students and teachers. In the year 2000, the expanded education and public programs staff moved into a newly renovated building across from the original library. As the digital revolution reached the Folger, the library also undertook and completed the massive task of putting its catalog online, under the name Hamnet.


Upon Gundersheimer’s retirement in 2002, the Folger trustees appointed Gail Kern Paster, professor of English of George Washington University, and editor of the leading journal of Shakespeare studies, Shakespeare Quarterly, as director. Initiatives under Paster included a major construction project to reinforce the Folger’s underground vaults, the installation of the Folger’s first new outdoor Shakespearean sculptures since 1932, a set of eight works by Greg Wyatt, and Folger seminars for undergraduate students. She also oversaw and encouraged a host of projects making use of new technology, including a digital photography laboratory and major new conservation facility, online education resources such as Discover Shakespeare and Shakespeare for Kids, an interactive touchscreen display of the First Folio, audio tours for exhibitions, audio and video podcasts, and major academic projects such as the Shakespeare Quartos Archive and online cataloging of the Folger's 56,000 manuscripts. She also worked to raise the Folger’s public profile with a revamped and expanded website, publication of the Folger Magazine, award-winning films about the library and its history, and a three-part 70th-anniversary public radio documentary, Shakespeare in American Life, narrated by Sam Waterston. Paster retired at the end of June in 2011.


Michael Witmore, a scholar of Shakespeare and early modern literature as well as a pioneer in the digital analysis of Shakespeare’s texts, became the current Folger director in July 2011. Most recently professor of English at the University of Wisconsin, Witmore also directs the Working Group for Digital Inquiry, a group of humanists who use computers to assist in traditional humanities research. He is co-winner of the Perkins Prize for the Study of Narrative as well as the past recipient of numerous fellowships. His most recent book, Landscapes of the Passing Strange, a collaboration with photographer and writer Rosmund Purcell, was inspired by a painting in the Folger reading rooms.


Back ... Making the Modern Folger

Werner Gundersheimer

Gail Kern Paster

Michael Witmore

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