UNESCO gives ‘Shakespeare documents’ cultural status on its Memory of the World register

Ninety documents relating to William Shakespeare’s life have been added to the UNESCO International Memory of the World register, giving them the same cultural status as Magna Carta and the Gutenberg Bible. The 90 ‘Shakespeare documents’ recognized by UNESCO touch on Shakespeare’s baptism, burial, family matters, property records, legal actions, and business dealings.

Six of these documents belong to the Folger Shakespeare Library collection, including papers related to his real estate purchases in London and Stratford-upon-Avon. The other 84 documents selected by UNESCO come from six UK libraries and archives: the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust, which led the successful nomination with The National Archives, Worcestershire Archives and Archaeology Service, the College of Arms, the British Library, and London Metropolitan Archives. (The Folger is the only American institution included.)

So, what exactly is the Memory of the World program? Started by UNESCO in 1992, the register conveys internationally recognized status to documentary heritage that has “universal value” in order to preserve the material and widen access to it.

All 90 ‘Shakespeare documents’ can be found on Shakespeare Documented, a publicly-accessible online repository of more than 400 primary-source materials that include all known references and allusions to Shakespeare and his works during his lifetime and shortly thereafter, as well as additional references to his family.

“We are delighted that UNESCO has recognized the importance of these documents, which represent a cultural treasure but also a vital resource for ongoing scholarly work,” Folger Shakespeare Library Director Michael Witmore said. “The fact that these resources – supplied by a number of institutions – have been digitized and are widely available means that a vital part of the documentary record is able to speak to us from centuries past. If libraries are diary of humankind, this group of documents represents one of that story’s most exciting chapters.”

The six ‘Shakespeare documents’ held by the Folger Shakespeare Library represent different aspects of Shakespeare’s professional and personal life. Click each image to learn more about the item on Shakespeare Documented.

The copy of bargain and sale signed by the vendor when Shakespeare purchased the Blackfriars Gatehouse in London in 1613
The copy of bargain and sale signed by the vendor when Shakespeare purchased the Blackfriars Gatehouse in London in 1613
The 1602 buyer and vendor copies of the final concord when Shakespeare purchased New Place, his house in Stratford-upon-Avon
The 1602 buyer and vendor copies of the final concord when Shakespeare purchased New Place, his house in Stratford-upon-Avon
A 1602 compilation by Ralph Brooke, York Herald, of various coat of arms awarded by William Dethick; Shakespeare appears fourth in a list of twenty-three names challenged.
A 1602 compilation by Ralph Brooke, York Herald, of various coat of arms awarded by William Dethick; Shakespeare appears fourth in a list of twenty-three names challenged.
A later copy of Brooke’s book containing a depiction of the Shakespeare coat of arms as 'Shakespeare the player by Garter'
A later copy of Brooke’s book containing a depiction of the Shakespeare coat of arms as ‘Shakespeare the player by Garter’
A 1593 diary entry by Richard Stonley that shows the earliest purchase of Shakespeare's first work to appear in print, Venus and Adonis
A 1593 diary entry by Richard Stonley that shows the earliest purchase of Shakespeare’s first work to appear in print, Venus and Adonis
A manuscript copy of a Cambridge University play, Progress to Parnassus (c. 1601), that refers to Shakespeare as a poet and a playwright, citing and alluding to his works
A manuscript copy of a Cambridge University play, Progress to Parnassus (c. 1601), that refers to Shakespeare as a poet and a playwright, citing and alluding to his works

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