I can’t tell you how much I’m looking forward to Women’s History in the Digital World #WHDigWrld at Bryn Mawr March 22-23.  It will be my “first” digital history conference!

I’m on an amazing panel with Margo Hobbs Thompson ( @MargoHobbs712) who’ve I’ve known since we were both graudate students working on feminist art, and Liza Cowan editor and now digitizer of Dyke A Quarterly (@DykeAQuarterly) who I met on Twitter.

I’m presenting on my efforts to finds digital means to answer some big historiographical questions as part of my book project  The Politics of Women’s Culture.   I wondered if digital tools might provide a way to untangle the complicated history of the concept of women’s culture from its conflation with cultural feminism.

I spent the better part of my sabbatical playing around with different digital tools.

I began with  google ngram to trace the trajectory of the term’s usage.  That didn’t work so well due to problems with the digitized texts.  I then turned to Bookworm with fairly similar results.

I moved to some blunt instrument approaches with JSTOR data to trace the rise and fall in several different periodicals of related concepts.  That proved satisfying in some ways but not in others.

Finally, I messed around with various text visualization methods and topic modeling.

Finally, I landed on corpus analytics and critical discourse analysis using AntConc.

JSTOR data for research kindly provided me with full text OCR files for 1978-1981 for Off Our Backs.  My wonderful graduate assistant Whitney Esson digitized Chrysalis a magazine of women’s culture.  

I selected these two periodicals for strategic reasons.  “Off our backs (oob) is the longest published, probably the most widely circulated, and the best-known newspaper of the “radical feminist” family.” In the New Women’s  Survival Sourcebook 1973 the editors Grinstead and Rennie claimed OOB left behind radical feminist movement focus to focus on intra-movement schisms from a “predominantly male left perspective.” Chrysalis, a Magazine of women’s culture conceived of by Rennie and Grinstead as a “new national  feminist magazine”  makes for an excellent comparison.

The dates 1978 to 1981 represent the “crisis” in women’s culture.  A series of debates within feminism caused the idea of women’s culture, once so dominant, to fall into disrepute.    Critiques of women’s culture as anti-sex began with the conference Women Against Violence in Pornography and Media: San Francisco Conference in November of 1978 and ended with the 1982 The Scholar and The Feminist Conference IX at Barnard College. 

The critique of women’s culture as racist was hinted at during a conference celebrating the thirtieth anniversary of the publication of The Second Sex held at NYU in 1979, Audre Lorde delivered her powerful speech “The Master’s Tools” and erupted in disputes around Chrysalis.

 Using digital tools I will explore the discourses created in each periodical.  I’ll try to zoom in on the topic of racism and the anti-pornography movement to see if  historians’ neat division of camps of feminism exist in these representative periodicals. 


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