Shakespeare and Company Project Releases New Exhibit, Essay

Earlier this month, readers around the world commemorated the centennial of James Joyce’s Ulysses, published in Paris by Shakespeare and Company on February 2, 1922.

Here at the Center for Digital Humanities, we are also celebrating the Shakespeare and Company Project team for meeting several milestones of their own!

The Project, led by Joshua Kotin, Associate Professor of English, and CDH Lead Developer Rebecca Sutton Koeser, draws from the papers of Sylvia Beach, the owner of the iconic bookshop and lending library that counted among its members Gertrude Stein, Ernest Hemingway, and the author of Ulysses himself.

On the Project site, users can explore Shakespeare and Company’s members and holdings to gain new insights into the world of the Lost Generation. For example, users can track the circulation of books and chart their popularity, activities that would be infeasible—if not impossible—with the archival materials alone.

Digital Exhibit

Whereas users can view images of lending library cards on the Project site, a new digital exhibit from Digital PUL offers a look at two other critical Project sources: Beach’s handwritten address books, which shed light on her members’ lives in Paris (and beyond), and her logbooks, which detail the day-to-day operations of her business.

The exhibit allows users to discover the original archival context for the information on the Project site and much more. For example, Kotin explains, visitors can use the logbooks to identify the book purchases that accompanied the sale of lending library memberships and renewals each day.

In addition, the exhibit—curated by Iliyah Coles ‘22, who interned with the Project last summer, with the generous support of PUL IT Project Manager Kimberly Leaman—also features another source: Beach’s records of lending library books acquired between 1933 and 1940.

Among Beach’s first purchases are titles by D.H. Lawrence (who tops the list of Shakespeare and Company’s most popular authors) and Richard Aldington, himself a member of the bookshop and lending library.

An image of a notebook page shows the words "March 1933" at the top left. Below is a list of books. Author names are on the left side of the page, to the left of the vertical pink line, whereas titles are in the middle of the page.

The first page of Beach’s book of “new library books” begins in March 1933. Records show that Helene Brémond was the first member to check out Aldington’s book, on April 1. To explore all the bookshop and lending library’s holdings, head to the Project site.

New Publication

Also new from the team: “Shakespeare and Company Project Data Sets,” published in The Journal of Cultural Analytics last week.

The article, co-authored by Kotin and Koeser, presents a detailed account of the development and functionality of the datasets, and their connection to the Project’s three sources in the Beach Papers: lending library cards, logbooks, and address books.

A Venn diagram shows a large blue circle to the left, labeled "Lending Library Cards." Intersecting it on the right is a gray circle labeled "logbooks." A smaller brown circle, which intersects both circles, is labeled "address books"

A Venn diagram shows the sources of the events in the database. Whereas borrowing and other book-related events appear only on lending library cards, membership events (such as subscriptions) show up in two (or even three) sources.

Kotin and Koeser also discuss the limitations of these sources. Not only are there gaps in logbook coverage; in some cases, existing sources do not provide all the information researchers need to identify a person or book. Because the lending library cards do not include author names, Kotin and Koeser explain, we are “uncertain whether ‘Three Loves’ refers to Max Brod’s Three Loves (1929) or A. J. Cronin’s Three Loves (1932).”

For readers interested in the technical and computational side of the Project, Kotin and Koeser outline how the team created the Project’s three data sets: 1) members; 2) books; and 3) events (for example, borrows, subscriptions, renewals, and reimbursements).

The process began when researchers transcribed and encoded the archival materials using a customized Text Encoding Initiative schema. The initiative resulted in three datasets—one that drew from the lending library cards; one based on the logbooks; and one that provided information on the people listed in both sources.

The challenge then was to link different categories of data—in short, to show who checked out which book when.

The solution? A relational database that links members, books, and events via the creation of “accounts.”

As we see, the thoughtful design of the database—along with the archival materials, of course—gives the Project its power.

Updated Data Sets

Since first releasing the data sets in 2020, the Project team has worked to make the data as complete and accurate as possible.

The latest research is reflected in the Project’s version 1.2 data sets, published last month.

Since the previous data set was published in January 2021, the team added 162 addresses and 113 Wikipedia links to identify lending library members. Meanwhile, the total number of members decreased by more than 300 as researchers consolidated records found to belong to the same members.

The team also added nearly 2000 ebook links, which will allow users to read the books that circulated in the lending library.

More information about the changes is available on the version 1.2 read me.

What’s next for the Project?

Koeser and Kotin are co-editing a collection of essays based on Project data. The essays will be published by the Journal of Cultural Analytics and Modernism/modernity later this year.

We’ll be the first to check it out!

The Shakespeare and Company Project received several grants from the Center for Digital Humanities, mostly recently a Project Enhancement Grant in 2020–21.

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