Taste the Sweat to Check for Sickness: The Queering Slavery Working Group and Digital Histories of Slavery

Saturday, January 3, 2015: 11:10 AM
Gramercy Suite B (New York Hilton)
Vanessa M Holden, Michigan State University
Jessica Johnson, Michigan State University
The Queering Slavery Working Group (#QSWG) was formed to discuss issues related to reading, researching and writing histories of intimacy, sex, and sexuality during the period of Atlantic slavery. As co-organizers, Holden and Johnson host Google Hangouts, operate live feeds and manage group communications using Google Groups, forms, and other digital tools. In addition, Holden and Johnson operate a Tumblr of remixed digital images collected as part of their research seeking out queer encounters in slavery's archive. Guided by the question, “What would it mean to Queer Slavery?,” Holden and Johnson access images of slavery collected in long-established digital archives, modify them using digital imaging platforms like Fotor and Picasa, and add #hashtags that make use of contemporary queer vocabulary. The visual culture of the #QSWG tumblr is both playful and provocative, productive and reproductive. The images prompt conversations around ways same-gender desire and intimate violence appeared in non-text sources in a forceful assertion of queer ubiquity in the archive. This paper explores three digital history elements of #QSWG. First, as a hybrid digital humanities venture, #QSWG uses technology to bring historians of slavery together, many of whom need to engage with colleagues and delve deeply into archives across local and national boundaries. Second, as a digital media project, the #QSWG Tumblr deliberately manipulates historical convention, challenges authenticity of sources and transgresses boundaries of scholarly authority. Third, using Tumblr, a social media platform known for queer transgender and cis- people of color community organizing and consciousness-raising positions #QSWG in a genealogy of grassroots intellectual production and community-accountable histories of slavery. This paper will also consider tensions around the way #QSWG operates and the kinds of histories centered or incentivized by the profession as a whole.
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