Blog Post

06. Teaching and Making Digital Archives

In my Introduction to Women's Studies classes, I have used the Heresies archives a few times in conjunction with the excellent movie, The Heretics, directed by Joan Braderman. Heresies was a feminist art magazine that published twenty-three issues between 1977 and 1993. Operated by a collective, Heresies embodies many of the principles of the Women’s Liberation Movement and is a wonderful learning laboratory for uncovering what feminism meant to women in the 1970s and 1980s.

In addition to having all of my students watch the Braderman film, I have students work in small groups to craft a class presentation. In groups of two or three, students select one issue from the Heresies archive, read it and prepare a short presentation for class, highlighting the themes and topics of the issue and making connections to their lives today. These are always productive conversations; students select issues and articles that appeal to them and that have some relevance to their daily lives.

This year, I added a new twist on the Heresies assignment. After the film and Heresies presentations, students participated in a “Group Archive Project”that involved creating their own digital archive of an issue of the journal Conditions. I have written about Conditions and the archival work that I have done with Conditions at Lambda Literary; in addition, I am preparing a conference paper about Conditions for the National Women's Studies Association Conference in Oakland (I am planning to do some blogging to HASTAC from the conference—if you are attending, let me know so we can connect.) Thus, this assignment fits in that wonderful nexus of my intellectual interests, teaching objectives and student interests.

Last week, students turned in the assignment and did their presentation in class. Afterward, I created the archive of all of the digital issues at the Lesbian Poetry Archive. Of the seventeen issues of Conditions, published between 1976 and 1990, fourteen have been digitized and are in the archive at the Lesbian Poetry Archive. My model was the Heresies archive (minus the film—that is a little too ambitious for me, besides, I am deeply committed to print culture); I also had in mind the Hot Wire archive. (Hot Wire was a periodical of feminist and lesbian music.)

I share here some observations about the project and my continuing plans for building digital archives with student involvement.

First, in the instructions, I failed to mention that for the digital files to work with the rendering program they must be under 100MB. As a result, many of the beautiful files my students made were way to big. This resulted in me spending hours converting files to the proper size. My next set of instructions will be amended to address this issue.

Second, as a result of this oversight, I experimented with some different ways of rendering the file. Two of the files were in the correct size range so those were posted as is. Some of the files I converted from color to black and white. Even doing this, some of the files were too big so I split the, into two parts. Although I downloaded Acrobat Pro to help with this I found Preview on my Mac more effective. The detail oriented part of me doesn't like the consistency, but I have dissertation revisions pending so it will have to do for now.

This does raise bigger questions however about file formats and storing digital files with an intention of them being useful over extended periods of time. I am committed to creating PDFs of materials and using that as a core part of my archival work. I have become convinced that the PDF format is going to continue to be a ubiquitous and portable format for book-type files and above all I want my materials to be available to common readers everywhere.

Given that, though, what is the extent of rules and standards for formalizing my files? I have particular standards that I work by when I am digitizing books, but when I am working in a community of people (in this case students, but I am also working with some colleagues on creating archives and exhibits at the Lesbian Poetry Archive), what types of standards do we need to have and how flexible should we be with those standards?

I am concerned about the hosting of the documents on as it is a commercial service. It is however, a dramatic and gorgeous presentation of the issues with a wow factor that is satisfying for students and for readers. It doesn't work with non-flash enabled computers, however, which is a real bummer for the amount of time I spend on my iPad. I’m interested in hearing what folks think about different rendering systems for PDFs.

Next semester, I will use this assignment again; students will complete the digital archive of Conditions and begin an archive for another feminist journal.

In the meantime, my other class, Introduction to LGBT Studies, will be digitizing Out/Look, an influential periodical that published between 1987 and 1991. Both Conditions and Out/Look are not available in complete sets in most research libraries, so I think that this is an important scholarly service to future researchers.

I'd love to hear about other people experiences teaching with digital archives and with working with students to create projects.

I've pasted the instructions for my assignments below for other people's use and information.

Relevant Links:

Group Archive Project Assignment

Group Archival Project – 100 points

WMST 250/Fall 2012


For the group archival project, the class will collectively begin to create an electronic archive of Conditions, a feminist magazine of writing by women with a particular emphasis on writing by lesbians; Conditions published from 1976 until 1990.


In small groups of up to three students, each group will:

·      create an electronic archive of an issue of Conditions

·      analyze Conditions in relationship to the course material


Each group is responsible for completing four tasks:

1.    Create a PDF of 1 issue of Conditions (20 points). The PDF should be a single full color document created by scanning the pages and cropping the pages to show only the page (not extraneous material from the scanner.) For samples of creating PDF archival documents, look at the Heresies site,

Or you can visit the Lesbian Poetry Archive here:

and view some of the other sample archives.


2.   Enter all articles in that issue of Conditions into a searchable database (database organized by instructor) (20 points)

The database is a shared Google Doc. You can access it here:


Everyone should enter all of the data into this single Excel file on Google.


3.   Present to the class on the issue of Conditions, highlighting contributors to the issue of the journal and discussing key themes in the journal in relationship to the historical context and the current environment (50 points). The projector will be available for any use of multi-media in your presentations.


4.   Deliver the PDF and database electronically to the instructor (10 points). The files will likely be too large for email. You can create a shared folder with me on Dropbox or using Google Docs or give me a memory stick with the file. Be sure to email me with the specifics of how to retrieve the document!


5.    All of the issues will be published electronically here:

before the semester ends.





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