Primary Sourcebooks for the College Classroom

Have you ever wondered how Shakespeare’s plays are staged in non-English languages? How New World colonies adapted European religious rituals? How many copies of John Donne’s poetry exist in manuscript? These answers and more are found in the Folger Institute's Primary Sourcebooks.

Most of the websites linked below grew out of Summer Institutes for College and University Teachers. These are funded by the generous support of the National Endowment for the Humanities. In these programs, faculty participants explore the Folger collections to make their own discoveries relating to a subject area with the guidance of expert directors and visiting scholars. Participants are then encouraged to present their findings in the form of “primary sourcebooks” so that other college faculty and their students may share in this knowledge.

Each website presents and interprets primary material from the Folger’s collections, such as early modern letters and manuscript playbooks, contemporary maps, scientific treatises, and anything else the college faculty participants were excited to describe. The sites feature high-resolution digital images, brief interpretive essays written by the participants in those programs, and classroom exercises and questions for discussion. Full syllabi and bibliographies compiled by the directors and guest faculty are also included so that scholars and students may begin their own explorations into these topics.

We invite you to explore the digital images, interpretive essays, bibliographies, pedagogical exercises, and discussion prompts for your own research and classroom.

Selected list of primary sourcebooks

Shakespeare: From the Globe to the Global
Directed by Michael Neill, this 2011 NEH Summer Institute situated Shakespeare’s writing within the expanding world views of his own time through to 21st century adaptations.

Ritual and Ceremony: Late-Medieval Europe to Early America
This 2010 summer institute directed by Claire Sponsler reconstructed the social roles of rituals and ceremonies in Europe and the New World, asking, among other questions, what it means to participate in performative cultures.

A Manuscript Miscellany
Steve May’s 2005 NEH Summer Institute sought to consolidate research on the role of manuscripts in a variety of discourses for a variety of audiences from the late middle ages into the eighteenth century.

Habits of Reading in Early Modern England
This 1997 NEH Summer Institute, directed by Steven Zwicker, was the first for which a Primary Sourcebook was created. Groundbreaking for its time, it gathered a sampler of images along with the participants’ interpretive essays.

For a complete list of Primary Sourcebooks, please visit Folgerpedia.