“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. 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.”
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 Folger's seventh director on July 1, 2011.
Before coming to the Folger, Witmore was 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.
At Wisconsin, Witmore organized the Working Group for Digital Inquiry, a group of humanists who use computers to assist in traditional humanities research. Under the auspices of a Mellon Grant, Witmore is working with this team to map the 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 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 here on a research fellowship. It was also the subject of a Folger exhibition in the fall of 2012, Very Like a Whale, which Witmore co-curated.
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 is also editor, with David Lowenstein, of Shakespeare and Early Modern Religion, a collection of essays that explores Shakespeare's complex and multi-faceted engagement with different religious perspectives in the period.
He is currently writing a book with Jonathan Hope that blends computational and interpretive approaches to Shakespeare's style and language.