The Institute at 50

History of the Folger Institute

The Folger Institute was established in 1970 as a partnership between the Folger Shakespeare Library and two Washington-area universities. The consortium’s remit was to sponsor research seminars in early modern topics that would be well served by the Folger’s collections. A few years later, an endowment from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation provided invaluable sustaining support for the Institute. Over time, the consortium has grown, from local to regional to international strengths. NEH summer institutes for humanities faculty have extended the Institute’s reach nationally, and in the mid-1980s, NEH funding established research centers for the study of Shakespeare and the history of British political thought.

That decade also saw the revitalization of the Folger’s fellowships program, which had been a feature of the Library’s work since 1935, albeit without sustained financial grounding. Beginning in 1985, a series of NEH grants and dedicated matching endowments from donors assured the future of the fellowships program. In the 1990s, the fellowships program moved from the Director’s office to the Folger’s Research division (then known as Academic Programs) and was further strengthened by a series of grants and endowments from the Mellon Foundation.

In 2013, the Institute became its own department at the Folger, absorbing fellowships and scholarly programs, and seeking to incorporate a new model for collaborative research in the humanities. In 2016, the Institute inaugurated its Mellon initiative in collaborative research with the project, Before ‘Farm to Table’: Early Modern Foodways and Cultures.