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Planning our census

The survey that we’ve launched for The Shakespeare Folios Project is only the first step in our plan to develop a fully fledged census of the Second, Third, and Fourth Folios. Because we know that it can be hard to find the time to take on another research request, we wanted to share with you the anticipated next steps for gathering and sharing this information.

You might at this point be wondering why we wanted to do this. Our sense is that the volumes published after the iconic 1623 First Folio were more significant to early readers than they are today. A modern preoccupation with first editions clouds the fact that in the 17th century (and even into the 18th) the latest edition of a book may have held more value than an older imprint. Moreover, the unrecovered marginalia, ownership records, and even bindings of these books could provide valuable clues about Shakespeare’s 17th- and 18th-century readers, still a relatively untapped area of study.

And so, The Shakespeare Folios Project! Our first step is to map out the landscape. There isn’t currently a census of any of the 17th-century Shakespeare folios, outside of the assessments of F1 from Sidney Lee’s 1902 count and Anthony James West’s 2003 census.1 In order to get a sense of where folios are, and how many might be out there, we’re sending out a brief survey to likely institutional holders and private collectors. We don’t expect this initial survey to uncover all copies of F2, F3, and F4. But it will give us an approximate count from which to develop subsequent plans.

As we gather our initial count of folios, we will plan out the resources we need to support the census. How will we facilitate book-in-hand examinations of the volumes? What copy-specific information will we be looking for? What sort of digital tools can we use to collect this information from researchers and catalogers? Would we need to provide training to use these tools or to examine the folios?

We will also start to explore the technology needed to share the census. We intend this to be a living, open-access census, something that can be easily updated and freely accessible online. What software will we want to use to power our database and to publish what we’ve gathered? Are there resources we might want to develop to help users navigate and learn from this data?

With answers to these questions in hand, we will be able to approach funding agencies for grants. And then, knock on wood, we will have money in hand with which to realize our dreams!

This isn’t a short-term project, but we’ll be able to scale up or scale down our plans depending on what resources we have. In its simplest form, all we need is your cooperation in helping us identify folio locations, and we can slap that into a shareable database.

But we hope this is a census that will be more robust than that—and we’re grateful for any help you can provide along the way!