Euphemism Challenge

A (growing) list of the best, worst, and – quite frankly – weirdest descriptions of Cushman’s relationships (with friends as well as lovers) … what’s gossip without a fitting code, after all?

Women Matter! Women and the Archives

Review: International Summer School in Mainz, Germany (October 2019, “Reflections on Code”)

#digitalhumanities: As a newbie to digital humanities (or rather: DH, as I learned; DH is very much about abbreviations), I started my week at the International Summer School at the Academy of Sciences and Literature in Mainz on October 8, 2019. Two weeks earlier, I had already been to a Dariah workshop @IEG in Mainz, so Mainz really stood out to me as the place to be when it came to DH in Germany. It hadn’t been easy to find practice-oriented opportunities for a new DH fan. During my studies @FAU in Erlangen, I had read a couple of theoretical articles about the digital humanities and what they can do, how they change the field of literary studies, and how we can combine research endeavors in the humanities with computer-based tools that support them or even raise new questions altogether. During the two workshops, and especially the ISS, I dived into some really fun tools such as Git, Animexgeo, Neo4j, app.rawgraph.io, … and many more.

Several presenters guided us through a wide range of immensely fascinating topics and recent issues of DH and its tools. The one I would like to discuss in more detail is Martin Prell’s talk about ‘Historical sources of women in the Digital Humanities – overview and automated text analysis.’ Why this topic? Well, first of all, for someone only recently exposed to DH practices, it was a presentation that I could easily follow. Also, the idea of raising gender as a category and drawing attention to women in the archives resonated with me and the project that Katrin and I are working on. Specializing in NLP (Natural Language Processing – remember, the abbreviations, very important), Martin Prell analyzes letters of pietist Erdmuthe Benigna using a range of DH tools. Additionally, he critically examined gender issues in the digital humanities. Referencing Mark Hall’s talk @DHd2019, Prell observed that “DH is the Study of dead Dudes.” Women are not the major center of attention when it comes to research on archival material and they are hardly mentioned in DH projects presented at Dhd conferences. Women are thus marginalized and erased in public discourse, an ongoing process that is reinforced by the digital humanities. Even if DH researchers may not actively focus on male subjects, DH projects work with texts that are already available in a digital format. Women’s archival material may not be as accessible. Restrictions of access can have many reasons, such as:

  • women’s documents were not preserved in the archives due to gendered notions of what is worth being archived
  • documents are often not available in digital form or
  • researchers cannot find them in an online search as women’s archival material may be stored together with the items of their husbands.

The result is a cognitive bias. DH projects usually start with data that is already digitized. Hence, DH projects study mostly male subjects.

Are all DH projects really only about dead dudes? Well, no, obviously not. The biennial “Women’s History in the Digital World” taking place in the Anglo-American sphere is a conference specifically drawing attention to women. Among others, topics may include common DH tools such as network analysis, while other projects focus on gender-specific issues such as mapping of second wave of feminism. There is more to know: The Rose’s List, also called Women’s & Gender History DH list, was started by Professor Shelley Rose from Ohio and offers an interactive open access list of digital humanities projects about womenthat is interactive. Women’s Early Modern Letters Online (WEMLO) is an ongoing large-scale DH project that invites contributions by online users. Prell also mentioned more gender research options such as the gender package of R.

So what’s the take-away in the end: If you work on fascinating topics about women and the archives (and what research on women and archives wouldn’t be fascinating?), share your knowledge and make your material and results accessible to others. Use, for instance, a .csv export option to allow for your data to be used for other projects. Coming from a traditional training in American literary studies, I know how much academia is all about protecting your work, your data, your…whatsoever. Sharing is tough, I know. Questions about copyright, time management, and technological resources remain. Of course, there is a lot more to learn about coding, statistics, algorithms, tools, version control systems,… – just to name a few areas. There are many historical sources on women that have not yet been digitized or even found. Coming from queer and gender studies, I am familiar with the argument of the ‘empty archive.’ However, I think it is too easy to use this argument as an excuse. Scholars as well as non-scholars working with or being interested in archival material can actively and consciously shift their focus to women and members of minorities by making an effort to investigate the material that is not already there to digest digitally. So: Go to the archives and dig deep or. Time spent at archives is valuably (and costly), I know, but risk a glance at the sources contributed by women and minorities or attributed to the (white) men around them: it’ll be worth it.

We are currently working on selecting US-American archival material on gossip of the nineteenth century. For our Cushmania collection, we have started to set up a database for people, events, locations, and written documents that revolve around the circulation of uncertain knowledge about Charlotte Cushman, a nineteenth-century US-American actress who was also widely known across the Atlantic. The Omeka-based database aims at storing original documents, transcriptions, metadata, and relationships. (Soon-ish, we may even start an interdisciplarycollaboration with the Computer Science Department to help visualize our research outcomes better. Fingers crossed! Exciting, things are happening.)

Thank you ISS, ADW, organizers, and presenters! (If you have made it this far and have a twitter account, go follow them on Twitter to keep up with their work). A shout-out also to Katrin and the DFG for making this possible money-wise.

Hope to come back soon here and speak about the progress of our project,

Selina

Conference CfP

The Call for Papers for our first project-related conference is now online: please consider joining us in Bayreuth next October for Speculative Endeavors: Cultures of Knowledge and Capital in the Long Nineteenth Century. Deadline for submissions is Nov 22, 2019.

Keynote speakers are Peter Knight (Manchester), author of Reading the Market: Genres of Financial Capitalism in Gilded Age America (Johns Hopkins UP), and Lori Merish (Georgetown), author of Archives of Labor:  Working-Class Women and Literary Culture in the Antebellum United States (Duke UP)

We expect to publish the program of Speculative Endavors: Cultures of Knowledge and Capital in the Long Nineteenth Century in the spring of 2020.

First Project Publication

The most tangible result of my time at the Library of Congress so far: my article on the uses of gossip in Edith Wharton’s fiction is now available online!

Abstract:
In the United States of the late nineteenth century, the home was increasingly discussed in terms of privacy and the domestic was viewed as a protected “feminine sphere.” Focusing on the work of an author almost synonymous with the literary depiction of homes, Edith Wharton, this article questions domestic myths of the US home. As a vehicle for its critique, it relies on a mode of communication that is firmly located in the domestic sphere and yet destabilizes its premises of privacy and sanctity: gossip. By analyzing the depiction of homes and the reliance on “idle talk” as both content and narrative technique in “The Lady’s Maid’s Bell,” The House of Mirth, The Custom of the Country, and Summer, the article shows how Wharton exposes the feminine sphere as a dangerous place. To this end, she combines elements of Gothic fiction that subvert the domestic ideal with depictions of homes that are porous to gossip, which both uncovers abuses and invites them. Concentrating her attention on female protagonists (rather than enfranchised white men), Wharton paints a drastically different picture of the home and the possibility of shielding the private from economic or public concerns than evoked in contemporary legal and journalistic discourses.

Last Day at the Library of Congress

It’s my last day at the Library of Congress and that means: returning books and saying goodbye to the most convenient work place I have ever had the pleasure of working at. Soooo many books, most of them deliverd to your desk within hours; supportive librarians everywhere; reading rooms with everything from handwritten letters to original copies of magazines, to audiovisual material … it’s hard to imagine a better place for research.


I have learned a lot these past few months and my project (and my understanding of it) has grown tremendously, I’ve also submitted an article which has been accepted (! more on that when it’s out), I organized a panel with a colleague (which also got accepted), I met great people, and I’ve read so much gossip! In magazine articles, in conduct literature, in diaries, in letters – gossip was everywhere I looked. In reading all of this material alongside each other, gossip emerged, among others, as a very specific form of public intimacy which reached its readers (whether in Godey’s Lady’s Magazine or in Eliza Potter’s Experience of a Hairdresser in High Life) in a public, massmediated setting, yet addressed them as intimate friends and like-minded individuals. This paradoxical use of public gossip for intimate purposes (such as: distracting from the public and economic role of the women from which it originates) promises to be an exciting new avenue of inquiry into gossip’s uses at the end of the nineteenth century.
After the fun part of discovering so much primary and secondary material, now it is time to analyze, combine, revise, summarize, re-think, and form all of this into coherent thoughts and sentences. That might take a while. So for now, I’ll allow myself a short break and simply enjoy the memories of full bookshelves and an extremely scenic walk to work.

Disapproving in Style!

Gossip Poetry from the 1880s

That many people aren’t exactly fans of gossip (and haven’t been in the nineteenth century), isn’t new to me. That people felt strongly enough about it to put their disapproval into rhyme, however, is definitely a new insight! 
“Gadding and Gossip” by Georgia A. Peck, Good Housekeeping (Dec 29, 1888: 906)
“They Say” by Richard S. Spofford, Harper’s Bazaar (Oct 31, 1885: 19)

First Day at the Library of Congress

Long overdue, but what better topic for my first blog entry than my first day of archival research at the Library of Congress? I am currently a Kluge Fellow here and will stay until Christmas, so expect a couple of additional posts from this amazing place.
My first trip after getting orientated was to the “Rare Books Reading Room,” where I had a glance at sample issues of Godey’s Lady’s Book (later Godey’s Magazine) to get an idea of the role of gossip in this seminal 19th century publication. Turns out, I’m lucky! In 1894 at least, there was a regular column titled “Foreign Gossip” (the first issue I came across incidentally covered Bayreuth of all places) and in 1895 they seemed to have introduced “Women Up to Date” – a comparatively tame tabloid column, but a tabloid column nonetheless. I also came across a lengthy portrait of the actress Mrs Potter, whose marriage and divorce drama already provided an insightful case study for my analysis of Town Topics‘ rhetorical style (the magazine’s evocation of a gossip community between “The Saunterer” and his readers will be the topic of another post soon).
​All in all, off to a promising start!