Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Print to Digital: Lesbian Herstory Archives

I want to thank Krista May for suggesting that I discuss the Lesbian Herstory Archives for my latest blog post.

Many early digital archives were created to highlight long standing physical archives. Such is the case with the Lesbian Herstory Archives.

Begun in 1974 in New York by activists Julia Stanley, Joan Nestle, Deborah Edel, Sahli Cavallo and Pamela Oline, the Herstory Archive was born out of concern about "the precariousness of lesbian culture and how so much of our past culture was seen only through patriarchal eye" (history). A grassroots archive that collects oral histories, journals, photographs, letters, physical artifacts and much, much more, the archive expanded in the late 1970s with the support of Judith Schwarz and Mabel Hampton.  Here's a video of Edel, Nestle and Schwartz discussing the formation of the archive:

The project has clear set of goals, and the principles emphasize that the archive is for and from the community. The principles highlight inclusion and shared experience, rejecting the role of academic organizations in the preservation of lesbian history and experience.

The digital Herstory is designed to expand the project's reach. In "How to use the Archives from a Distance," the archivists write, "Since the Lesbian Herstory Archives strives to serve the Lesbian Nation, and not just the Dykes of New York, it is important you understand how to use the Archives from a distance. We may be located in New York City, but we do in actuality provide services to Lesbians the world over" (How to). The digital version includes lists of archival materials, web links to various queer organizations, a transcription of a Radcliffe Hall letter, and digital exhibits of archival materials, such as Keepin' On: Images of the African American Lesbians

The current website continues the work of the early physical and digital archive, adding a virtual tour of the archive, collecting 40 some years of the Lesbian Herstory newsletters, and over 4,000 oral histories (located in the Herstories Digital Collection--which is housed in Omeka)

Monday, April 27, 2015

Activist DH: NativeWeb

I have argued in my article "Can Information Be Unfettered? Race and the New Digital Humanities Canon" that many of the earliest DH projects are small scale, collective, activist digital projects.  Many of these early projects gathered links of primary and secondary materials and provided message boards and listservs for community building.

Native Web is an excellent example of such an early activist hyperlinked project.

Launched in 1994 out of the NativeNet listserv by Marc Becker, Gary S. Trujillo, Guillermo Delgado, and Susan O'Donnell, the project is typical of the small scale collective projects that would expand during the next 20 years to have a considerable impact. (Here I link the profiles of the participants that I could locate. If you have information on Trujillo and O'Donnell, please let me know, and I will update their information). The full history of NativeWeb is recorded here:

NativeWeb is activist in construction, community-focused in orientation, with a primary goal “to foster communication among peoples engaged in the present,” a common thread in such digital recovery work. The importance of what I call “curated hyperlinked” sites has been unremarked upon by most digital humanities scholars, a remnant of late 1990s web culture that now seems simplistic and out of date. Yet such work is pivotal to the formation of digital literary culture and remains central to community self control of ideas, culture, and history.

NativeWeb continues to be a vibrant site that pulls together a global indigenous community. 

 Native Web

Friday, April 24, 2015

The Hypertext Archive: Postcolonial and Postimperial Literature, launched 1992

Much of early digital humanities work was focused on the production of hypertext archives. George Landow, professor emeritus of Brown University, is perhaps the best known proponent of such an approach. His Victorian Web and his Cyberspace, Hypertext, & Critical Theory projects put in action his construction of hypertext, which he articulated in a series of 3 versions of his Johns Hopkins book Hypertext (1992, 1997, 2006).

Landow's interest in postcolonial studies led to the launch of the Postcolonial and Postimperial Literature: An Overview hypertext archive. Begun in the early 1990s in a class that Landow taught at Brown University, the project continued to grow over the next 20 years, during which time Landow was appointed Shaw Professor of English and Digital Culture in Computer Science at National University of Singapore and later served as founding Dean of the University Scholars Programme at National University of Singapore and Visiting Professor at the University Zimbabwe. In 2008 Professor Yew Leong of National University of Singapore took over the Postcolonial and Postimperial Literature project.

The materials were developed pre-internet in collaboration with Randall Bass  (his name should sound familiar--he was project director of the now defunct American Studies Crossroads Project that I will highlight in a future blog). Through the work of student Ho Lin, the project was launched in Storyspace in 1992. I have not been able to locate an archived copy of the site within Storyspace. If you are able to locate a copy or even images of the Storyspace site, please let me know. By 1996 Landow began to move the project to the internet (BBEdit!).

The site includes bibliographies, scholarly descriptions and interpretations, links to texts, links to courses, postcolonial theory overviews, and much, much more. When I taught my first Africana studies course in 1999, I used the site's Buchi Emecheta materials and found Landow's materials invaluable.

Landow's work is an important precursor to current projects such as GO:DH which push digital humanities scholars to continue to recenter and expand the types of materials with which we engage.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Estelle Irizarry and linguistic analysis of Hispanic poets

For many who don't fully understand the history of digital humanities, dh has come to mean computer science focused analytic criticism, data mining, or an anti humanistic approach to the text. Yet the history of data mining has deep roots in corpus linguistics and early pioneers in the field were careful to situate computer analysis within a cultural framework.

Today I want to highlight the very important early work of Estelle Irizarry, professor emeritus of the Spanish Department of Georgetown University.

Image from

You might recognize Irizarry for her linguistic work that argues that Christopher Columbus was a Catalan-speaking Jew, an argument laid out in Christopher Columbus, The DNA of his Writings (2009).  Digital humanists should also laud Irizarry for her early work with computer assisted linguistic play. Irizarry first presented "Tampering with the text to teach awareness of poetry's art (Theory and Practice with a Hispanic Perspective)" at the 1994 ALLC/ACH conference at The Sorbonne in Paris. She published her findings in the 1996 Literary and Linguistic Computing Journal. (Also note that Irizarry was an Executive Council Member of the association during this same period) Her paper is well worth a close read, but here is her abstract:

Theoreticians have linked the act of poetic creation inextricably to the principle of linguistic 'play'. A number of Hispanic poets have experimented with transformational and permutational creativity of the type that computers can accomplish quite easily. Such computer-induced play enhances the study of poetry by imbuing the poetic text with a new and dynamic dimension in which on-screen manipulation destabilizes the text, allowing the reader to explore it more thoroughly than is possible in the fixed printed medium and to appreciate it as a unique blend of word, structure and pattern. Well-known poems from writers who have themselves experimented with textual alteration, as well as works of others who have not, serve to illustrate diverse modalities of textual alteration, which are grouped by the types of transformation carried out by the computer.

Her work has been cited by Stephen Ramsay in his Reading Machines and other articles and by Willard McCarthy in his article "Getting There from Here: Remembering the Future of Digital Humanities, Roberto Busa Award lecture 2013" in Advancing Digital Humanities: Research, Methods, Theories, edited by Paul Arthur and Katherine Bode. When Ramsay talks about "The Hermeneutics of Screwing Around," he is pointing back to Irizarry's innovative "tamperings" with poems by José Martí, Gustavo Adolfo Bécquer, Clara Janés, Juan-Eduardo Cirlot, and others.

I hope that more of us read her work and recognize her as one of our important dh foremothers.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Voices from the Gap: Women Writers and Artists of Color

One of my favorite early projects is the Voices from the Gaps: Women Writers and Artists of Color, originally Voices From the Gaps: Women Writers of Color.

Here is what the website looked like when it launched in 1999:

If you click on the image you will be sent to the internet archive where you can browse the project. Without the internet archive, we would have almost no record of the history of digital humanities. Honestly. Hardly any of the originating projects kept versions or records of their projects, but that's an issue for another post. (in the mean time--keep records and versions of your project. Please!)

Toni McNaron and Carol Miller, both at the University of Minnesota, launched the site as a "collaborative effort between faculty and students" for use in the classroom.  In other words, digital pedagogy and collaborative research is not a new approach in digital humanities, but has been part of our originating story. Laurie Dickinson and Kim Surkan, graduate students in English in 1999, as well as numerous undergraduates including Christina Soderstrom, Manisha Nordine, Peter Clark, Lisa LaRonge, Neda Atanasoski, and Julie Hua worked on the project.

If anyone has any information about these contributors (institutional affiliation, perhaps?) I would like to record this information in the post. Many of the early dh contributors have disappeared from the historical record. I hope that this blog will allow us to create a record of individuals who contributed to this innovative work.

Addendum (the power of twitter!!):

Additional participants in the Voices project.

Mary Rizzo, Rutgers-Newark: Graduate Student outreach coordinator
Sharon Leon: Supported classes that contributed to the project
Sonjia Hyon
Pam Butler

Monday, April 20, 2015

Early American Women Writers

For my first blog post I would like to highlight Sharon Harris' Early American Women Writers (EAWW) webpage.

I chose this project to launch the blog because it is one of our many "lost" projects. The only way the EAWW might be viewed is through the internet archive, as it was removed in 2014:

The EAWW is also typical of some of our early projects in that it was born out of print scholarship. Harris served as editor of Legacy from 1996-2004 and was the founder and first president of the Society for the Study of American Women Writers. Her print publications recovered crucial American women writers including Judith Sargent Murray and Rebecca Harding Davis, and her 1996 American Women Writers to 1800: An Oxford Anthology expanded and reinstated women in the canon of early American literature. The EAWW includes biographies and works of a broad number of women from this period.

Project Overview

As my book, Traces of the Old, Uses of the New: The Emergence of Digital Literary Studies, is nearing publication (U Michigan P, December 2015), I thought it would be great to highlight some of the important early work in digital humanities. I think that we, as digital humanities practitioners, have been ahistorical in how we understand our work, often assuming that the last 5 years of projects are the entire field. Because of this, we often make broad statements that suggest that only one vein of work is digital humanities, an inaccurate understanding of where we have been and where we are going. This blog is designed to highlight early projects that have made contributions to digital humanities.

I want to thank Alex Gil, whose Around DH in 80 Days inspired this project.

I welcome suggestions of projects that I might highlight and guest posts. I especially encourage those of you who have projects that have been lost to contribute.