Skip to main content
The Collation

Q & A: Michael Witmore, Director

Michael Witmore, Director of the Folger Shakespeare Library

With this post, we inaugurate a Q & A series with Folger staff. It seems fitting to start off with one of the most recent and most public members of the Folger Shakespeare Library, Director Michael Witmore. Although his position as Director might be relatively new, Mike has a long history with the Folger: he has been a Short-term Fellow here, has published in Shakespeare Quarterly, and is co-curator with Rosamond Purcell of an upcoming exhibit, “Very Like a Whale.” Before coming to the Library, Mike was Professor of English at the University of Wisconsin; prior to that, he was Associate Professor of English at Carnegie Mellon University. His most recent books are Shakespearean Metaphysics (2008) and Pretty Creatures: Children and Fiction in the English Renaissance (2007). An introduction to of his current work, with Jonathan Hope, on digital analysis of early modern drama, can be found on Mike’s blog, Wine Dark Sea. You can also hear more of his thoughts on scholarship, Shakespeare, and the Folger on this Reduced Shakespeare Company podcast. And those of you in the DC area might be interested in his Director’s Choice lecture at the Library on October 26th, “Datamining Shakespeare.”

How did you first get interested in the early modern period?


I love the idea that we should be writing about the process of our work. One of the big arguments that has been made in favor of open peer review is that it reveals the writing and rewriting that is central to making a good argument (both Kathleen Fitzpatrick and Dan Cohen have argued this and have walked the walk by drafting and posting their latest projects online). And it’s an argument that gets made in terms of making the humanities more visibly relevant: we need to do what we do in front of people (Mark Sample has hit this theme in a recent ProfHacker post as well as in others). I think both of those arguments are absolutely true, and I’ve been striving to contribute to the ongoing scholarly conversations through my site, where I try out new ideas. But your point about focusing on the process of our work, on recording and paying attention to the ways in which we work and not only the results of our work, makes me think how useful (and fun!) it would be to see other scholars’ methods of working. It’s something I try to do when I’m teaching; I’ll have to try doing that elsewhere as well!

Sarah Werner — September 12, 2011

Loved this interview, which demonstrates why Mike is a great person to lead the Folger. The books on a desert island question was SO unfair, because utterly impossible; I love how he turned it to a meditation upon the materiality of Prospero’s books.

Jeffrey J Cohen — September 12, 2011