Shakespeare's World

Crowdsourced project for transcribing manuscripts from Shakespeare’s lifetime

The Folger Shakespeare Library collection has a wealth of manuscripts created by thousands of men and women in and around Shakespeare’s lifetime, 1564–1616. However, much of the handwriting from this time period was done in a style known as secretary hand, which is difficult for most 21st century people to read and can make studying these manuscripts a slow and cumbersome process for scholars. And, unlike with printed documents, no large searchable database of manuscripts exists, limiting the extent of research.

This is where Shakespeare’s World comes in. Using a new online platform where images of the manuscripts have been uploaded, anyone around the world can assist in transcribing these documents.

The process is simple: Register for an account, view a manuscript, and begin transcribing. All contributions are welcome and transcribers can go at their own pace. The first phase of the project will focus on ‘receipt’ (recipe) books and letters. Later, the project will add miscellanies, family papers, legal, and literary documents.

Once the manuscript images are fully transcribed and vetted, they will be entered into the Early Modern Manuscripts Online, or EMMO, database. EMMO is a multi-faceted project at the Folger that is funded by a grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS). Once the database is implemented in late 2016, scholars will be able to search the transcriptions and associated metadata in the free EMMO database for any word or phrase from these manuscripts, greatly expanding our capacity for understanding the world in which Shakespeare lived.

"We look forward to building and connecting with new communities of transcribers and creating new forms of access to the Folger's incredible collection of manuscripts," says Heather Wolfe, curator of manuscripts and the principal investigator for EMMO. 

2016 marks the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death, and it’s an opportune time to broaden our understanding of the period in which he and his contemporaries lived. What was it like to live, work, or raise a family in early modern England? What did people eat, what did they wear, and what issues worried them? What were the hot topics of gossip? What did they do for fun? What did they read and how did they travel? These manuscripts help us uncover the answers to those questions.

Shakespeare’s World is a collaboration between the Folger Shakespeare Library's EMMO project, at Oxford University, and the Oxford English Dictionary of Oxford University Press.

"The EMMO team is very excited to see this experiment in crowd-sourced paleography begin!" says Paul Dingman, the EMMO project manager.

We invite everyone to contribute to this project by transcribing.

(Launches December 10)

For more information, please contact Paul Dingman, EMMO project manager (, or Heather Wolfe, curator of manuscripts and EMMO principal investigator (