The worldwide collection of Shakespeare Quartos will become available online

26 March 2008

Hamlet_title_page_smallThe Bodleian Library, University of Oxford together with the Folger Shakespeare Library, Washington DC, is to create the Shakespeare Quartos Archive, a freely-accessible digital collection. The initiative is one of five transatlantic digitization collaborations between British and American institutions awarded the first JISC/NEH Transatlantic Digitization Collaboration Grants. The other participating organizations include the British Library, Edinburgh University Library, the National Library of Scotland, the Shakespeare Institute at Birmingham University and the Maryland Institute for Technology in the Humanities.

The Joint Information Systems Committee (JISC) is supporting the project through funding of almost £60,000 for the British participating organizations. The US partners will receive their funding from the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH).

The one-year project which begins in April 2008, will reunite all seventy-five pre-1641 quarto editions of Shakespeare’s plays into a single online collection. The project’s website will feature high-resolution reproductions and full-text of surviving Shakespeare quartos in an interactive interface. Functions and tools such as the ability to overlay text images, compare images side-by-side, search full-text, and mark and tag text images with user annotations will facilitate scholarly research, performance studies, and new pedagogical applications. In the first instance, full-functionality will apply to all 32 copies of Hamlet, held at participating institutions.

In the absence of surviving manuscripts, the quartos—Shakespeare’s earliest printed editions—offer the closest known evidence of what Shakespeare might actually have written, and what appeared on the early modern English stage. They are of immense interest to scholars, teachers, editors, and theatre directors, yet due to their rarity and fragility, the earliest quartos are not readily available for most to study. The Shakespeare Quartos Archive will make these earliest quartos freely accessible for in-depth study to Shakespeare students across the globe.

Richard Ovenden, Associate Director and Keeper of Special Collections, Bodleian Library said: ‘The Bodleian Library is committed to making its collections and treasures available to the world-wide community of scholars, teachers, and students. Thanks to the support of JISC and the NEH, the Shakespeare Quartos Archive will help us move a step closer to realizing this goal. Working with the Folger Shakespeare Library and our other partners, we will create a significant online resource for scholars at all levels with an interest in Shakespeare.’

Dr Malcolm Read, JISC Executive Secretary welcomed the announcement, saying: ‘This project demonstrates the great potential of collaboration between our two countries in the field of digitisation. It brings together skills, expertise and important scholarly content in ways that we hope and trust will deliver major benefits to scholars on both sides of the Atlantic. We are delighted to be working with the NEH on this digitisation initiative and we look forward to seeing the fruits of this project in due course.’

• The Joint Information Systems Committee (JISC) is a joint committee of the U.K. further and higher education funding bodies and is responsible for supporting the innovative use of information and communication technology (ICT) to support learning, teaching, and research. It is best known for providing the JANET network, a range of support, content and advisory services, and a portfolio of high-quality resources. Information about JISC, its services and programs can be found at

• Folger Shakespeare Library, located on Capitol Hill in Washington DC, is a world-class research centre on Shakespeare and on the early modern age in the West. It is home to the world’s largest and finest collection of Shakespeare materials and to major collections of other rare Renaissance books, manuscripts, and works of art. More information about the Folger Shakespeare Library can be found at

More info about Shakespeare Quartos Archive: Prof. Neil Fraistat, Director, Maryland Institute for Technology in the Humanities (MITH) answers questions about the digitization project.

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