Blog Post

Points of Departure

Points of Departure

This is my first post to the HASTAC as a new 2012-2013 scholar. I've been wanting to participate in this community since I've been in grad school, but now in my final year committed myself to participating. Briefly, I'm in my fifth year of the PhD program in Women's Studies at the University of Maryland. My dissertation, which I will defend early in the spring 2013 term is on lesbian-feminist print culture from 1969 until 1989. In the dissertation, I examine a number of lesbian-feminist presses to think about production and circulation of texts during the Women's Liberation movement and the effects of these texts on different identity formations and canon formations. Obviously, there is a much longer narrative to the dissertation, but for now, I'll leave it at that.

I want to jump right into some of the issues that I am thinking about in relationship to the digital humanities at the moment. First, I am concerned about digital preservation. Second, I am interested in how web platforms can be used to make scholarship accessible, that is, what can websites do to help us spread scholarship to interested people outside of academia. Third, I am interested in web platforms might be utilized to offer sustainable solutions for community based cultural projects. To demonstrate some of these concerns and begin to think about the questions behind them, I'll describe three projects that I am working on currently.

First, in conjunction with my dissertation, I have been building an online archive, the Lesbian Poetry Archive (http://www.LesbianPoetryArchive.org). Early in my research, this digital space was an extension of a research notebook and a place to organize bibliographies of the presses that I was investigating. One thing I learned early on is that there was no comprehensive listing of books published by lesbian-feminist presses during the 1970s and 1980s. This astounded me in some ways. This is recent history not long ago history. Why didn't database like WorldCat list all of the books published by a press like Diana Press or Daughter Publishing Company, Inc? Well, the simple reason is that libraries didn't hold copies of all of the books published by these presses and WorldCat draws its data from libraries. That is, there are "orphaned" books; books which may exist in personal collections but aren't in any libraries. This presented one of the early challenges of my research: identifying what lesbian-feminist presses published. Why they published what they did became the question after piecing together a history of what they published. This experience also led me to the second phase of the Lesbian Poetry Archive: assembling electronic archives of books, particularly books that were difficult to obtain through libraries. Initially, I created these archives as individual pages on the Drupal platform with the pages rendered as .gifs. Then I discovered Issuu.com and the fantastic platform it offers for creating digital books. I am no migrating early archives into the Issuu.com platform and republishing them. From this brief description, you can see the multiple issues of preservation that concern me. What is preserved in libraries? What becomes orphaned from libraries as a preservation project? How do we preserve digital editions of print texts? How do we keep those digital editions accessible through new evolving technology?

While that paragraph opens up lots of interesting ideas and things to think about, I'll turn to my second area of concern at the moment: web platforms as a way to make scholarship accessible. One of my mentors, Martha Nell Smith, operates the Dickinson Electronic Archives (http://www.EmilyDickinson.org). We recently migrated this project to a Drupal platform (I'm a bit in love with Drupal as you will come to learn) to announce the discovery of a new daguerreotype of Emily Dickinson. Part of the vision for the Dickinson Electronic Archives 2 is to create a space for scholarly inquiry that is also accessible to discussions from an array of people, scholars, interested readers, etc. You can already begin to see some of that discussion evolving in the first forum on the DEA2: http://www.emilydickinson.org/node/14 (oh, I should probably give that URL another name, eh? A project for this week--it is super simple in Drupal). The Dickinson Electronic Archives is a great test-forum for this idea of building dialogue between people in academia and as Woolf would call them "common readers" because Emily Dickinson has such a wide community of interest--a strong scholarly community, many engaged lay readers, and many interested folks. The opportunity of the new daguerreotype of Dickinson is an important one.

Finally, I am the editor of a lesbian journal, Sinister Wisdom, which is a print publication that has been publishing since 1976. Recently, we relaunched the Sinister Wisdom website (http://www.SinisterWisdom.org), again on Drupal, and are currently doing an Indiegogo.com campaign to raise money to support the journal. It will probably surprise no one that very few print journals, particularly community-based literary and cultural journals, are supported through subscriptions alone. We have a great group of dedicated subscribers, but the subscription rate doesn't cover all of the expenses of printing and mailing the journal. (Almost all of the labor costs of the journal are donated.) Given that a big focus of my dissertation is economic: how did small presses get started financially? how did they sustain their work financially? is there a viable financial model for publishing in cadre communities?, I think a lot about the money behind what we see as cultural and literary projects. There have been a lot of reports about the costs of scholarly publishing and the current pressures on libraries in relationship to subscriptions to scholarly journals, conversations which I find fascinating, but I am interested, for now, in a slightly smaller scale of these discussions. How can a journal that publishes three issues a year (120-pages in each issue, generally) raise money through charitable fundraising, sales of issues, and sales of back list issue to sustain itself?

These are some of the questions that I am thinking about and will be mulling over the next year. In the meantime, I want to post an interesting site that lots of my friends on social media have been talking about this week: http://www.nohomophobes.com/#!/today/

This is a great project which aggregates references to "homos," "faggots," "dykes," and other anti-gay slurs into a single site and displays the references. The site asks us to think about the common forms of diminishment of gay and lesbian people in our everyday lives. I find it quite provocative and would love to hear with other think about it.

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