Reviewed February 2021
Lindsey Taggart, Director of Resource Management and Discovery
Duane G. Meyer Library, Missouri State University
The Shakespeare and Company Project is a freely available digital humanities project centering on Shakespeare and Company, the famed English-language bookshop and lending library in Paris. The shop, owned by author and publisher Sylvia Beach, was a favorite haunt of expatriate writers and artists in the 1920s and 1930s. The Shakespeare and Company Project draws on primary source materials from the Sylvia Beach Papers at Princeton University Library Special Collections and was developed by the Center for Digital Humanities at Princeton, with a team of contributors including over two dozen researchers.
The Shakespeare and Company Project seeks to “recreate the world of the Lost Generation” with glimpses into what it was like for past members to use the lending library. Users can browse and search the lending library’s members and books, and learn about how writers like Gertrude Stein and Ernest Hemingway joined the shop’s community. Included in the website are five main sections, including “Members”, “Books”, “Analysis”, “Sources”, and information about the project. The “Members” and “Books” sections provide access to searchable catalogs of data. Users can search through the Shakespeare and Company membership, with details of active dates and mapped addresses, or search over 6,000 items from the lending collection. Members may be filtered by membership years, whether they possessed a lending card, birth year, gender, nationality, and arrondissement. Filters such as gender, nationality, and card link to explanatory text detailing why this information has been included in the database, a helpful didactic feature not typically seen in collection discovery interfaces. Detailed information of items includes the number of times the item was circulated, and, where possible, a link to read online via The Internet Archive.
Under “Sources”, users can read explanatory articles about the three types of sources upon which the project and data are built: lending library cards, logbooks, and address books. These sources include details that further illuminate everyday activities at the shop, including borrowing activity, fines, membership renewals, sales, and expenses. The “Analysis” section provides in-depth reflection on the data uncovered through studies of these source materials. For example, one article includes an analysis of the most and least checked out items, with James Joyce’s A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man coming in at the top of the most borrowed list, and other “Top Ten” lists such as most borrowed periodicals and most borrowed authors in translation.
Perhaps the most exciting aspect of the Shakespeare and Company Project, and one that highlights its digital humanities-based approach, is its intention of engaging with users and scholars. The project’s “Data Export” pages makes three datasets freely available for download in CSV and JSON formats. Technical information is also freely available, with code available on GitHub. The Shakespeare and Company Project has also recently invited proposals for articles based on documents and data available through the project, to be published in the Journal of Cultural Analytics and Modernism/modernity.