See you at Shakespeare and Company

This is an exciting time for the folks working on Mapping Expatriate Paris. Thanks to the efforts of Carl Adair and Ellie Green, we recently completed the first major phase of our project, taking down a complete diplomatic transcription of all the card faces in the Sylvia Beach lending library card catalog. This has been no small task. In total there are 568 names in the catalog many with multiple cards to their name. Taking recto verso into account, this amounts to 2,329 images in our indexed image directory. Among the challenges of a diplomatic transcription are the many irregularities and eccentricities in Sylvia Beach’s notation, not to mention the sometimes more straightforward difficulties of deciphering her hand. We are still working out which scripts are definitively her own, but most of the cards do seem to have been made by Beach herself, or most likely, in some cases by her young assistant Françoise Bernheim. It is a testament to Carl and Ellie’s perseverance and professionalism that we were able to complete this project phase over the summer of 2015, just as we had planned.

Another major component of our project this summer has been supplementing the data from our card catalog with information from several Address Notebooks and ledgers where Sylvia Beach kept track of contact information for her clientele. Because not every user of the lending library has a card, our project is exploring the subset of a wider but less well-documented network of patrons. Harvesting this additional data source is therefore essential for us to comprehend rigorously the context of the community represented in the cards themselves. Over the last two months, Harriet Calver has diligently dedicated herself to extracting the data from these log books, and we are thrilled to announce that she has completed work on the Address Book. There are still many more logs detailing daily transactions at Shakespeare & Co. and there’s lot’s more work to be done, but we are excited that eventually one facet of MEP’s achievement will be to offer a complete almost real-time chronological picture of the day-to-day functioning of Sylvia Beach’s library.

This fall we’re inaugurating the second major phase of the project, which will be the TEI encoding of the library cards and the building up of a rich XML database that will eventually power the website and provide users with a flexible and exciting tool for exploring our archive. Joining Ellie Green, Carl Adair and myself on the coding team is Ian Davis, a fellow grad student in English. Cliff Wulfman, our Technical Lead, is designing the encoding template, and will be guiding our coding team forward as we begin to really sink our teeth into the raw batch of data we’ve assembled.

There are many stories waiting to be uncovered in the material traces of Sylvia Beach’s legendary library. Thanks to our team’s efforts this summer, today we are on the cusp of reassembling with extraordinary and unprecedented detail the literary world of Modernist Paris. So stay tuned for more updates later this semester. We anticipate new questions, surprises, and challenges as the contours of the MEP database start to take shape.

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