The Shakespeare and Company Project: Check It Out

On July 11, 1925, James Joyce visited the Shakespeare and Company bookshop and lending library in Paris and checked out four books about his fellow Irishman Oscar Wilde. On December 21, 1937, Aimé Césaire visited the lending library and checked out Langston Hughes’s The Weary Blues (1926) and Countee Cullen’s Color (1925). On August 12, 1940, Simone de Beauvoir checked out Ernest Hemingway’s The Fifth Column (1938). Two weeks later, she checked out Richard Wright’s Native Son (1940).

Want to learn more about the reading lives of these and other important writers, including Gertrude Stein, Walter Benjamin, and Hemingway himself?

Check out the Shakespeare and Company Project, a custom-designed web application that becomes available on May 15. Led by Joshua Kotin (Associate Professor of English) and Rebecca Sutton Koeser (Lead Developer, Center for Digital Humanities), the Shakespeare and Company Project draws from the papers of the bookshop and lending library’s founder Sylvia Beach, which are held by Special Collections at Princeton’s Firestone Library. The Shakespeare and Company Project reveals what these famous members read (and read in common), and their connections to various communities of readers. By highlighting the circulation of both famous and lesser known works, and by placing major writers within a larger context, the Project provides a striking new portrait of the Lost Generation and life in interwar Paris.

In addition to providing unprecedented access to the Beach papers, the Project offers digital tools to study Beach’s world. Users can search the borrowing and purchasing records for approximately 600 lending library members, and explore the membership histories of the entire lending library membership. Users can also analyze member demographics by age, nationality, and gender, and sort the books that members borrowed and purchased by title, author, and publication and transaction date. Maps represent where members lived in relation to Shakespeare and Company’s location on the Left Bank.

Side-by-side view of a historic lending library card showing books checked out and a digitized table of the same data.

Users can view images of members' cards, as well as their borrowing and purchasing records.

The Project’s newest features, available on May 15, facilitate engagement with the lending library’s holdings. Users can track how often and when a book circulated among lending library members, and see which books circulated the most.

Essays by Project contributors, including Kotin, Koeser, and CDH Web Developer Nick Budak, illuminate Project data.

Data from the Shakespeare and Company Project is open access, and can be downloaded and shared to enable research.

The Shakespeare and Company Project is the culmination of six years of research and development. Founded in 2014 by Kotin, then-graduate student Jesse McCarthy *18 (English), and Clifford Wulfman (Princeton University Library), the Project —originally known as Mapping Expatriate Paris —counts dozens of current and former Princeton staff and students as contributors. From the beginning, Princeton students have played an important role in the Project. In addition to McCarthy, Elspeth Green *19 (English) and Cate Mahoney *20 (English) have served as project managers. Princeton undergraduates have assisted with research and social media.

Work on the Shakespeare and Company Project will continue after May 15, in anticipation of a launch in 2021. Visit the site for new essays in the coming months. In the meantime, we invite you to explore the Project and to follow us on Twitter and Instagram .

The Shakespeare and Company Project has been developed by the Center for Digital Humanities, and generously supported by grants from CDH, the Humanities Council (Magic Grant), UCHRSS, and the Dean’s Innovation Fund for New Ideas in the Humanities.

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