An article I wrote about the Lesbian Herstory Archives‘ photo digitization project is now out in the Radical History Review’s second Queering Archives special issue. The article is called “Body, Sex, Interface: Reckoning with Images at the Lesbian Herstory Archives” (RHR 122, 2015).
Thanks to the special issue editors and
Here’s an excerpt from the article:
Digitization of this collection began in 2010, the first self-directed project to offer extensive online access to the archives. Preparing this collection for an online database involves several factors. I consider digitization at the LHA as an expansive process that is not conceptually limited to the creation of digital files from “analog” sources; to digitize also encompasses the design and implementation of an online user interface, the creation and assignment of descriptive metadata to images, and the selection of which images to offer online. The complexity of images of sexuality presents opportunities for reflecting on the cultural politics of this process, including the accessibility of sexual materials in lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) archives as they move online. An archive’s responsibility to provide access to images of sexuality is balanced with questions of legality, ethics, and propriety, creating a tension informed by the growing pressure of “queer liberalism” on these archives as they move further into public-facing roles mediated by the web.
An essay I wrote on the digitization of oral histories tapes at the Lesbian Herstory Archives just came out in No More Potlucks. You can read it here. This is the first piece of writing to come out of my research at this archives in 2012/2013.
Colette shows me the digitization system she researched and designed, which includes a digitizer that connects a basic tape player to a laptop via USB, the free and open-source audio software Audacity, two hard drives for storing files, and a CD folder where the compressed versions of each tape are cataloged for visiting researchers who would like to listen. Colette talks with pride about her ability to design a system that was in budget and works just as well as professional equipment: we “realized we could do it on the cheap because this thing [pointing to the digitizer] cost ten dollars and we get the same quality.” The system is, above all, good enough—the audio quality is remarkable, actually, and the portable hard drives are a decent substitute for the stable online repository that the archives would love to have but can’t afford. Colette showed me how to set up the digitization station, how to watch for and eliminate clipping, and how to noise-reduce the files, all of which she learned through a process of “trial and error,” made possible by a willingness at this archive to try something at which one is not an expert, to be wrong, even to fail.
Thank you to Maxine Wolfe, Colette Montoya, Anthony Cocciolo, and the volunteer staff at the LHA for their hospitality and help with the essay. And thank you to SSHRC who supported the research.
From Issue No. 1 of the Lesbian Herstory Archives Newsletter (June 1975)
I’m at Congress this week at the University of Victoria, giving three different papers that will become sections of a single dissertation chapter. This is my first attempt to write about the research I did in April and May at the Lesbian Herstory Archives in Brooklyn. The turnaround between completing this research and writing about it was very short, and I feel like I’m still digesting the work and figuring out what it means, but I’m very glad for the opportunity to make some sense of the research for an audience while it’s fresh.
But truly, the pinnacle of my time at the LHA was earning the tote bag I’d been coveting:
A highlight of congress so far has been the first meeting of the new Sexuality Studies Association. I’m pumped to be a part of this and see how it grows over the next couple of congresses.
Here are the papers I’m presenting this week:
- “At the Edges of the Digital Imperative: Digital Media in the Lesbian-Separatist Archive.” Women’s and Gender Studies et Recherches Féministes Annual Conference. University of Victoria, Victoria BC, June 2–4, 2013.
- “10,000 Images, One Scanner, Two Volunteers: Digital Media at the Feminist Archive.” Canadian Communication Studies Association Annual Conference. University of Victoria, Victoria BC, June 5–7, 2013.
- “Digitizing Sex: Reckoning with Images at the Lesbian Herstory Archives.” Sexuality Studies Association of Canada Annual Conference. University of Victoria, Victoria BC, June 1–2, 2013.
I just handed in my last course paper ever. It’s a hasty history of the queer Internet from 1995–2000 that I approached as an early attempt to grapple with a topic that will eventually form a historical chapter in my dissertation. One of the hard parts of doing Internet history of any kind is the complete lack of an archive, or preservation standards for web documents, a problem that lots of smart people have written about at length (see, for example, Lisa Gitelman). You can try your luck with Internet archives like the waybackmachine, but you need to know the URL of the site you want to look at, which makes it difficult to study, for example, the beginning of the queer WestHollywood community on Geocities in 1995 (though this is a dream project of mine).
A fairly typical site from the early days of Geocities WestHollywood.
Working on this paper, I’ve noticed that the peculiarities of web archiving are a bit different in queer contexts, and I think this has something to do with the fears about representation, or lack thereof, that a queer media public traumatized by the AIDS crisis and Don’t Ask Don’t Tell (1993) brought to the early days of the web. Another project I’m working on is a study of digital and online archival politics in grassroots queer archives. On a research trip to the Lesbian Herstory Archives a year ago, I sifted through vertical file after vertical file stuffed with printouts from various “born digital” documents, from simple, html sites on queer topics to email correspondence. The researcher in me was thrilled to find this stuff, but I also couldn’t help but think how strange it is that archive volunteers printed and saved all these documents when so many other archives didn’t bother. I’m wondering how the politics of queer media in general during this period might have inspired a different way of thinking about web documents.
A print archive of the web also raises all kinds of questions about studying online media in print form. Rather than get into these questions here, I’ll just put up two images to illustrate:
Planetout homepage from 1997, screenshot from waybackmachine.
Sreenshot of Planetout from 1997 taken from a black-and-white paper copy of Nina Wakeford's Cyberqueer, which was then scanned as a PDF and circulated online for a course reader.