Abington students dig into history at Shakespeare library

Abington student at the Folger

A Penn State Abington student studies a manuscript that dates back to the Shakespearian era at the Folger library in Washington, D.C.

Credit: Penn State

ABINGTON, Pa. — A group of Penn State Abington students examined rare materials and discussed research with renowned scholars recently at one of the world’s preeminent libraries. 

Marissa Nicosia, assistant professor of English; Christina Riehman-Murphy, reference and instruction librarian; and Heather Froehlich, Literary Informatics Librarian at University Libraries accompanied the students to the Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington, D.C. The Folger houses the world’s largest collection of the works of William Shakespeare and is the premier site to research the culture of Shakespeare’s England.

The students’ visit was sparked by their study of recipe books from the Early Modern era, roughly the late 15th to the late 18th centuries. In Shakespearean-era English households, families collected culinary and medicinal knowledge in recipe books.

Using a digitized manuscript at the Folger as a jumping-off point, the students used an Early Modern recipe book to explore questions about ecology, food, medicine and women’s history.

While visiting the Folger, the Abington students viewed recipe manuscripts and explored an exhibition titled "First Chefs: Fame and Foodways from Britain to the Americas." Nicosia’s ongoing collaboration with scholars at the library includes her role on the curatorial team for First Chefs.

Alexis Amicone, an English major, said the site visit allowed her to examine other Early Modern recipe books.

“Some were really aged, and some were well-preserved,” she said. “We read through them and saw examples of how the process of transcription works.” 

Letters, arts, and sciences major Hannah Pinson found learning social history at the Folger to be fascinating.

“It gave us the backgrounds of the people responsible for the recipe books,” she said. “We discovered what a wealthy person versus a peasant ate.”

Caitlin Wert, and English and business major, said the site visit was very engaging. 

"Everyone has something they can relate to in these books," she said. 

Student, Nicosia at Folger

Penn State Abington student Alexis Amicone and Marissa Nicosia, assistant professor of English, examine a manuscript at the Folger Shakespeare Library in 2019.

Credit: Christina Riehman-Murphy

Four of the students along with Nicosia, Riehman-Murphy, and Froehlich have moved on to the next stage of their research projects, known as ACURA (Abington College Undergraduate Research Activities).

They are learning paleography — how to read and transcribe an Early Modern manuscript — text analysis skills, archival research practices, and they have the opportunity to conduct individual research. The students have completed their first transcriptions, read and discussed academic and public-facing writing, and drafted blog posts about what they learned with the goal of sharing their experience with a general audience.

About Penn State Abington

Penn State Abington provides an affordable, accessible and high-impact education resulting in the success of a diverse student body. It is committed to student success through innovative approaches to 21st century public higher education within a world-class research university. With about 3,700 students, Penn State Abington is a residential campus that offers baccalaureate degrees in 21 majors, undergraduate research, the Schreyer honors program, NCAA Division III athletics and more.