Shakespeare and the Making of America

The Folger Shakespeare Library’s 2020 Teaching Shakespeare Institute

In partnership with The College of William and Mary, The Omohundro Institute of Early American History and Culture, Historic Jamestowne and Colonial Williamsburg

When: June 28 – July 18, 2020 (a three-week institute)

Where: The College of William and Mary, Williamsburg, VA

What: Twenty-five middle and high school teachers will join with a multi-faceted faculty in Jamestown and Williamsburg for three weeks of deep study and mutual discovery of Early America and Early Modern Europe. On this storied ground, we’ll study the mingled lives of indigenous peoples, enslaved people of color, impressed mariners, dispossessed commoners, and the plantation elite as they all live on in myths, stories, laws, material culture, and . . . Shakespeare. Some parts of this tangled web are well-established; other parts are just now coming to light. And Shakespearean notions of freedom and justice turn out to be richly present in the dream of the Republic. Shakespeare and the Making of America will shine a bright light on the context in which Shakespeare wrote, and in which his plays reached what ultimately became America. In many ways, this will be an unprecedented three weeks.

Participants will dive into: The Tempest (c.1611); The Merchant of Venice (c.1596); John Smith’s A True Relation of Such Occurrences and Accidents of Note as Hath Hapned in Virginia Since the First Planting of that Colony, which is now resident in the South part thereof, till the last returne from thence (1608); a selection of runaway slave advertisements (c.1751); the Declaration of Independence (1776), and ongoing work in Historic Jamestowne (2020)


Institute Director: Dr. Peggy O’Brien, Director of Education, Folger Shakespeare Library

Head Scholar: Dr. Ellen MacKay, Associate Professor of English, University of Chicago


Housing: The College of William and Mary, Williamsburg, VA

NEH Stipend Awarded to Each Participant: $2700

Application Information

Applications Open: November 15, 2019

Applications Due: March 1, 2020

Should You Apply? If you are a middle or high school teacher and you have an appetite for the real thing: studying the literature in depth and with a fuller picture of the roles of indigenous, black, brown, and Latinx people, as well as the specifics of the crash and flow of Renaissance literature and culture with the American Experiment, please consider applying. If you are eager to learn how the Folger Method of teaching literature can connect your students with the real thing too, please consider applying. If you are open-minded, have high energy, and are an excellent collaborator, please consider applying. If you are hungry to learn from and right alongside the faculty—just like you do with your students—please consider applying. If you have a sense of adventure and an appetite for going beyond and for breaking new ground, this could be the institute for you!

Questions or Clarifications: We will continue to add more information about the program to this webpage, but please don’t hesitate to email Peggy O’Brien at


Resident Faculty:

Dr. Ellen MacKay, University of Chicago, Head Scholar
Dr. Kyle Grady, University of California at Irvine
Dr. Karin Wulf, College of William and Mary and Executive Director, Omohundro Institute
Caleen Jennings, American University
Michael Tolaydo, St. Mary’s College of MD, emeritus
Stefanie Jochman, Trinity Episcopal School, Richmond, VA
Heather Lester, International School at LaGuardia Community College, NY, NY
Mark Summers, Director of Public and Youth Programs, Historic Jamestowne
Dr. Peggy O’Brien, Folger Shakespeare Library, Institute Director

Visiting Faculty:

Dr. Katherine Rowe, President, College of William and Mary
Dr. Michael Witmore, Director, Folger Shakespeare Library
Dr. James Horn, President, Jamestown Rediscovery Foundation