The Failure of Feminism in Digital Archives?: A NWSA 2012 Roundtable

The following roundtable has been accepted for the National Women Studies Association Annual Conference in Oakland, CA November 2012!

The Failure of Feminism in Digital Archives?

Panel Convener: Adeline Koh (@adelinekoh)
Panelists: Adeline Koh (@adelinekoh), Jacqueline Wernimont (@profwernimont), Katherine D. Harris (@triproftri), Deborah Gussman (@debgussman)
Moderator: Karen Alexander (@karenfalexander)


In the past thirty years, the “recovery” of women’s writing has extended beyond print to the creation of digital archives, such as project Orlando and the Brown Women Writer’s Project. In order to address the contributions of digital feminist archives to knowledge decolonization, this roundtable will discuss issues such as: relationships of digital archives to traditional archives; feminist archival methodology; the relationships between female authorship and feminist archival projects; different modes of reading and knowledge representation imposed by digital archives; and the relationships of racial and ethnic politics to feminist digital archives.


The recovery of the long history of eighteenth and nineteenth century women’s writing during the 1980s feminist literary and historical movements caused a shift in the male-dominated canon. Authors such as Elaine Showalter, Gilbert and Gubar, Eve Sedgwick, Jean Marsden, Judith Fetterley were integral to this shift. But even after 30 years of recovery work, only a small portion of the digital archive is dedicated to these women writers. How do we leverage these groundbreaking projects to fuel a more widespread recovery? How do we encourage a feminist poetics of content, infrastructure, and tool building in the digital archive? Finally, how do the politics of empire continue to fuel the “imperial meaning-making” of the construction of digital feminist knowledge?

This roundtable will explore how the the politics of recovery has transitioned from the print to the digital world, by examining various examples of what constitutes a digital feminist “archive.” Our examples span from Jacqueline Wernimont’s work on feminist encoding and the Brown Women Writer’s Project, a textbase of early modern women’s writing, Katherine D. Harris’ Forget Me Not Archive, a scholarly digital edition making accessible a non-canonical genre and the poetess aesthetic, Deborah Gussman’s work-in-progress on a digital edition of Catharine Sedgwick’s uncollected periodical writing, and Adeline Koh’s work on postcolonial feminism and digital pedagogy.

Image Credit: U of Illinois Archives

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