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The Folger Institute /

About the Folger Institute

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Institute Values

The Folger Institute strongly believes that knowledge creation is the product of expansive and diverse intellectual communities, and we take seriously our mission to set agendas and standards for research in the humanities. Inclusiveness and diversity are central to the Institute, as we bring researchers together across career stages, disciplinary formations, cultural perspectives, and diversity in all of the ways that it manifests in personal experience, from gender identity and sexual orientation to race, class, and physical ability.

The Folger, like many other research institutions and organizations, fully supports and adheres to these principles as they are legally defined. But the Institute aspires to a higher standard, one of free and open inquiry and respectful debate. We value historical evidence, and we also acknowledge that one may find deliberate elisions and silences in the archive. We are attentive to language, genre, and the means of persuasion. We bear responsibility to articulate the stakes of an argument and create meaningful interpretations. Many of the conversations we join have been centuries in the making; indeed, they likely took shape in the very period at the center of the Folger collection.

We take these objectives and methods to be intrinsic to our mission as the research arm of a humanities research library, and are committed to exemplifying them: attending to topics of inquiry that advance historical understanding in conflicted areas; opening up new subjects of inquiry as relevant to our times and our communities’ interests; critically examining our own collection and other repositories of early modern culture to consider their legacies; and including and cultivating more diverse voices. We use our influence as a hub of many communities, and we pursue funding opportunities and partnerships that will advance these goals.

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.