Michael Witmore, a professor at the University of Wisconsin who has loved Shakespeare since reading “Othello” in high school, has been named the new director of the Folger Shakespeare Library.

He will start July 1 and succeeds Gail Kern Paster, who is retiring after nine years in the job.

The library contains the world’s largest collection of Shakespeare materials.


Michael Witmore, the new director at the Folger Library (Courtesy of Folger Shakespeare Library)

His most recent book, “Landscapes of the Passing Strange: Reflections from Shakespeare,” a collaboration with photographer Rosamond Purcell, came into focus while he was doing research in the Folger reading room.

“There are great treasures within the Folger and the Folger has found a way to make those treasures face the outside world. There is a great power to that,” Witmore said in a telephone interview Tuesday.

“The greatest challenge we face in the humanities is to show those who do not know what we do what we do. It is better to show than to tell. The Folger is one of those places where there is plenty to show,” Witmore said.

The Folger, founded in 1932, is an award-winning hub of scholarship. It has 265,000 books and 60,000 manuscripts. And the Folger takes an active part in the region’s cultural life, with a noted theatre, early music concerts, exhibitions and literary readings through the nationally acclaimed PEN/Faulkner Foundation.

Witmore, who was born in the San Francisco Bay area and grew up in Acton, Mass., earned his bachelor’s in English at Vassar College and his masters and doctorate in rhetoric at the University of California, Berkeley.

His interests straddle the centuries between Shakespeare and Google. One of his research areas is “wisdom literature” of the 16th and 17th centuries where readers annotated books with proverbs and maxims. At other times Witmore is helping to pioneer the digital analysis of Shakespeare’s texts. “We are using the new techniques, like those used in bioinformatics, to study and understand how different styles of writing developed and flourished at different points in history,” he said. But he cautioned. “These techniques will never replace the value of human judgments about text.”