The Harry Ransom Center at the University of Texas at Austin recently mounted a digital exhibit called “The Greenwich Village Bookshop Door: A Portal to Bohemia, 1920-1925. The exhibit is centered around a unique artifact, the front door to Frank Shay’s bookstore, located at 4 Christopher Street, which was signed by 242 notable artists, writers and publishers. Serving as a veritable who’s who of the Village in the early 1920s, the exhibit seeks to identify the signers, compile short biographies, and set them in their milieu.
Digital technology was critical to the creation of this exhibit. The door is a stand alone item at the Ransom Center; it did not come with the archives of the book shop or its owner. Searching for and identifying the signers was made possible by the mass digitization of books, especially those in the public domain, which enabled the archive’s staff to find information on relatively obscure individuals as well as notable bohemians.
The exhibit allows readers to interact with the image of the door, clicking on signatures for identifications, looking at the kinds of people who frequented the bookstore, and exploring the shop, the village, and the bohemians.
Technology also enables contributions to the exhibit; readers can suggest possible names for the signatures not yet identified, and can provide biographical information for those that lack detailed lives.
For more about exhibit, see Jennifer Schuessler’s Sept. 1, 2011 article in the New York Times Review of Books, “A Portal to the Village.” Congratulations to the Ranson Center staff for a wonderful exhibit!