Rebecca Munson serves as Project Manager for the CDH, supervising the development and day-to-day implementation of all sponsored projects (currently fifteen). Her background is as a literary scholar, working primarily on Shakespeare and other early modern dramatists. She received her Ph.D. in English from Berkeley in 2014. Before coming to Princeton she held postdoctoral fellowships at UCLA, where she was a Postdoctoral Fellow in the History of Material Texts, and Emory, where she was a member of the Fox Center for Humanistic Inquiry. She is the founder and director of Common Readers, a digital initiative dedicated to gathering, sharing, and preserving images of early annotations in printed texts (www.commonreaders.info).
She is completing her first monograph, Shakespeare in Common, which approaches Shakespeare’s extraordinary and immediate popularity by returning to the term’s explicitly political roots. It argues that to understand how—and how rapidly—Shakespeare became a common cultural property it is essential to understand the mechanisms by which the politics of his plays were productively ambiguous. Far from either challenging or reproducing ideologies, his plays modeled the process of political engagement itself, forcing audiences to reflect on their own thought processes and to become conscious of themselves as political agents. It posits a crucial link between Shakespeare as the creator of texts that model affective engagement with political problems and his unusual success in the two key cultural institutions—the theater and the press—that facilitated the democratization of the English government. Stretching from the start of King James’s reign in 1603 through the Restoration of Charles II, Shakespeare in Common reclaims the neglected period of 1642-60 (when the theaters were closed and the staging of plays was banned) and places drama at the heart of an historic confluence of “popular” enterprises—theater, publishing, and parliament—that gave rise to a foundational model of civic engagement. It contends that the same ideological structures that made Shakespeare popular in an artistic sense (the growth of the city, the burgeoning capitalist economy, the spread of literacy, the dominance of the printing press) imbricated him in the rise of political popularity and made his plays its agent.
Rebecca’s research interests are concerned with the intersections of drama, political philosophy, book history, and digital methodologies.