Monday, May 4, 2015

Before the Web: SASIALIT mailing list: Literature of South Asia and the Indian diaspora

In my forthcoming book, Traces of the Old, Uses of the New (Michigan), I trace the theoretical approaches from which current digital humanities emerged. A similar book could be written about the technologies from which digital humanities emerged, of which the LISTSERV is foundational. The mailing list provided a way to develop a community of scholarship, discuss issues pertinent to scholarship, and share resources. 

SASIALIT mailing list: Literature of South Asia and the Indian diaspora was originally launched at Rice University in 1996 and remains an active list. Prentiss Riddle, former webmaster of Rice University, managed the active list. I have not been able to locate the founders of the listserv, so if you know of those involved please comment below. 


The archives reveal that at the height of SASIALIT's use, the listserv users were exchanging hundreds of emails each month. Users were sharing articles and books, translating materials for circulation, and engaging in heated debate over scholarship and political issues. The listserv launched a reading circle, effectively a book of the month club, reading literature from Salman Rushdie, Bapsi Sidhwa, Jhumpa Lahiri, Raj Karmal Jha, and many others.  The discussions in the archive reveal users were actively engaged in shaping of the field of South Asia Literature.

While we often talk about projects or tools in contemporary digital humanities, we must remember that the use of the early listserv constitutes a foundational tool to our field. Many of the early listservs would go on to develop some sort of web presence, as did the SASIALIT who developed a hyperlinked list of materials:

Many of the early listservs have been replaced with other forms of digital communication, such as twitter and blogs, but the archives of such early lists provide a view into how scholarly communities began to use digital tools and of the important scholarship nurtured by the listserv.

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