Michael J. Price Lab for Digital Humanities

The New Shakespeare Census

The New Shakespeare Census

Zachary Lesser

Professor of English, Undergraduate Chair

Funding Period: 
February, 2017

Research Assistant: Rishabh Tagore, Economics 

The "Shakespeare Census" is an online database of all known extant copies of all Shakespeare editions through 1700, excluding the four folios (given that there is a recent census of F1, and a digital census of F2-4 in progress). The need for this project is great, since the last such census is now more than 75 years old, and since a great deal of cutting-edge work in Shakespeare studies involves the examination of particular copies for the evidence they can provide of the printing, publishing, and early reception of Shakespeare. Phase 1 of the project involves listing all copies by holding library, including copy-specific notes (if any) from the library catalogue, provenance information, shelf marks, and other finding aids. Phase 2 of the project, a long-term goal, will involve physical examinations of each copy to highlight distinguishing features, as well as fresh investigations of the provenance of each copy. Since the project will be highly useful to scholars even without Phase 2, the site will go “live” once Phase 1 is complete (or mostly complete).

Progress report:

The site is almost complete and ready to go live. We will begin with outreach to librarians, asking them to confirm and update the records we currently have associated with their institutions. We now have 1518 copies in the database. Many of these initial copies have been scraped from the English Short Title Catalogue (ESTC), and librarians will help to confirm or reject this information, since ESTC includes many false records. The site is available temporarily . We have a bit more work to get it ready for public use, including some design work (individual icons for each title), and some functionality (search; librarian submission form) still to be implemented. We expect to complete this work by April, 2018.


Zach Lesser received his PhD in English Literature from Columbia University and his BA in Renaissance Studies and Religious Studies from Brown University. Before coming to Penn, he taught at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign. His teaching and research interests focus on Shakespeare and early modern drama, the history of material texts, bibliography and editing, early modern political and religious debate, and digital humanities.