The Aesthetics of Feminist Digital Archiving in the Suffrage Postcard Project

Description (in English): 

In 2019, we have Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook. A hundred years earlier, there were postcards. In the “Golden Age” of postcards (1902-1915), postcards circulated with the same fervor, if not speed, of images on popular social media apps today. The Suffrage Postcard Project looks back at the early decades of the 1900s in the context of the women’s suffrage movement, a movement that gained momentum in the same historical moment of the Golden Age of postcards and produced hundreds of pro- and anti-suffrage images. This project asks: How can feminist DH and data visualization approaches to over 700 postcards offer new perspectives on the visual history of the U.S. suffrage movement? Our methodology is inspired by Jacqueline Wernimont and Julia Flanders’ 2010 article, “Feminism in the Age of Digital Archives.” They argue that the “work of digitization and encoding also engages us in a reflexive process that forces us to interrogate those genres and any genre-tags that we may use in creating the textbase.” Within our feminist DH lab—made up of faculty, instructors, graduate students, and ELO2019 University College Cork #ELOcork 36 undergraduate students—images were collectively tagged through Omeka, a digital archive platform. Currently, we are using the API to export data to ImagePlot and Gephi for data visualization. We are also in the beginning stages of building a feminist data visualization tool for the Project, in collaboration with computer science and engineering faculty and graduate students. Using the Suffrage Postcard Project, this presentation reads the aesthetics of a digital archive and argues that the ideological aesthetic brought to the creation and development of a digital archive influences the way that archive is read. In this case, a feminist aesthetic challenges visual understandings of race, class, and gender within the suffrage movement; it uses data treated by feminist methodologies to raise questions critical to intersectional feminist analysis. The aesthetics of the archive asks: How do we organize our images, line-breaks, page-breaks, and written text within the digital archive to reflect a feminist aesthetic? How do we apply a feminist aesthetic to write machine-learning algorithms that highlight critical feminist concerns within U.S. visual history? How do we represent absence—the absence of women of color, immigrant women, working-class women, non-Christian women, and women without children—in data visualization? What do these visualizations allow us to see that we couldn’t see before? And finally, how do we make our feminist treatment of such data transparent to the archive-user? These questions frame the collaborative work done within the feminist DH lab that produces the Suffrage Postcard Project.

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Vian Rasheed