Community partner spotlight: Shakespeare and Company Project

To extend our community outreach, the library partners with the many municipal, non-profit, and business organizations that make Princeton such an extraordinary town. This month, the “Shakespeare and Company Project,” a digital humanities initiative at Princeton University, is in the spotlight.

Not surprisingly, the library works with the many different entities within Princeton University. We are particularly excited to collaborate with the “Shakespeare and Company Project” because what could be better than a library sharing the historical work of a lending library and bookshop frequented by famous authors!

We are looking forward to several co-presented events: Rediscovering the Lost Generation: Inside the World of Shakespeare and Company; and book discussions with university affiliates on “The Garden Party and Other Stories” by Katherine Mansfield“Pointed Roofs” by Dorothy Richardson, and “A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man” by James Joyce.

Tell us a little about the “Shakespeare and Company Project.”

The “Shakespeare and Company Project” is a digital humanities initiative that uses archival material from the Sylvia Beach Papers at Princeton’s Firestone library to bring the Lost Generation to life. Beach was the owner of Shakespeare and Company, the iconic lending library and bookshop in interwar Paris that counted among its members Ernest Hemingway, James Joyce, Gertrude Stein and other prominent writers and intellectuals. Even Dr. Seuss (Theodor Geisel) was a member! The Project reveals what many members read (and read in common), and where they lived, as well as how expatriate Paris changed between the two world wars. Check it out to learn more about the reading lives of some of your favorite authors.

Why is this a Princeton University project?

Sylvia Beach has close connections to the University and to the town of Princeton. Her father was an alumnus of the school, and Beach lived with her family in Princeton when he served as a pastor of the First Presbyterian Church. A year after her death, Princeton University purchased Beach’s papers with the blessing of her sister, Holly Beach Dennis. Since 2014, the Center for Digital Humanities at Princeton has partnered with Project Director Joshua Kotin, associate professor of English, to digitize materials from the Beach Papers and to create tools for users to explore them in new ways. 

How does your mission align with the library’s?

When Sylvia Beach founded the Shakespeare and Company lending library, she did a service to her community: she provided access to English-language books at a time when they were not cheaply and readily available in France. At the Project, we also strive to expand access — not only by giving users around the world tools to see the Beach Papers anew, but also by (re)introducing them to the wonderful books that circulated at Shakespeare and Company. We are thrilled to work with our own local library, which brings so many amazing books and events to the Princeton community. And, of course, PPL has an entrance on Sylvia Beach Way, so our partnership was meant to be!

What is something that you do that people might not know about?

There are so many parts of the Project beyond its scholarly and technical components (as critical as those are). Our team — which comprises Princeton undergraduates, graduate students, faculty, staff, and more — is busy developing teaching materials, drafting social media posts, responding to emails from users, and managing the day-to-day administration of the Project. Never underestimate what goes on behind the scenes!

Is there any project or event that you are particularly excited about at the moment?

So many! We are looking forward to partnering with PPL, of course. We are also currently accepting article proposals for our collaboration with two academic journals: Modernism/modernity and the Journal of Cultural Analytics. And there will be new essays going up on the Project Analysis page, so check back often.

Check out this book list to learn about Shakespeare and Company’s top 10 most checked-out books.

Photo Credit: Sylvia Beach (right) and Stephen Vincent Benét (center) at Shakespeare at Company, circa 1920 [Princeton University Library Special Collections]

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