That’s So Twentieth Century: Women’s History and Web 2.0

In my last post, I reproduced an announcement from the women’s studies journal  Frontiers about a new “interactive” column by Eileen Boris, in which she will cook up a “gumbo” of emailed responses, “mixing, seasoning, and throwing in her own ingredients, as she enables us to engage in feminist dialectic.”

As Pennamite observed in the comments section, “Isn’t that gumbo going to be a bit old, if the deadline for submissions is over a year away…? Seems like an awkward way to shoehorn social media into a paper journal format.”

Right on, Pennamite!  So this post is a response to Penny’s observation and a contribution to a new venture that Dan Cohen and  Tom Scheinfeldt started cooking up at ThatCamp this past weekend. They propose writing an edited book entitled Hacking the Academy:

“Let’s write it together, starting at THATCamp this weekend. And let’s do it in one week.

Here’s my question — can we do better than use a twentieth-century technology (email) to create an interactive feminist discussion?  To steal Pennamite’s motto — you betcha!

In fact, I would argue that the call from Frontiers is barely twentieth century (even if the announcement was posted on Facebook)– one could easily imagine this being done with old fashioned snail mail.  It’s not even as  technologically sophisticated as H-Women, which, while moderated, at least allows for give and take between subscribers.

Speaking of which, I have a great fondness for the good old days of H-Women, i.e. the 1990s, when I served as an editor.   Some of the original H-Net folks and I discussed how to make H-Net Web 2.0  at an H-Net reception at the AHA a few years ago — how to bring H-Net into the Web 2.0 era.  One can now “subscribe” to the discussion lists through RSS feeds instead of by email.   However, there’s not a lot of activity in terms of scholarly exchange — most of the content consists of CFP, queries, and announcements of various kinds.

Other experiments –organizers of the last  Berkshire Conference of Women’s Historians, more specifically Historiann,  put together a blog right before the most recent Big Berks meeting (this was   So, you can find a number of women’s historians who blog.  In October 2008, I was on a panel for the little Berks meeting with Tenured Radical and Clio Bluestocking. The Journal of Women’s History commissioned TR to coordinate a roundtable on the relationship between feminist history blogging and the professional world of feminist history. However, this roundtable will appear in a subscription-only traditional publication (although available electronically as well as in print).  Where’s the 2.0?  Will there be opportunities for readers to respond in an online forum?

Maybe I shouldn’t be such a smart-ass — after all, I’m a relative newcomer to digital history, and was lucky enough to get money from my university to build up my skills in this area.  Many people aren’t so fortunate. How do we get more women’s historians and feminist scholars on the Web 2.0 bandwagon?  Is this a worthwhile endeavor?  I await your answers.

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9 thoughts on “That’s So Twentieth Century: Women’s History and Web 2.0

  1. For a while Bitch Media was running a “Adventures in Feministory” blog for a while…not sure where it went but loved reading it.

  2. I think “Where’s the 2.0?” is the scary bit for a lot of folks. I suspect that there are a lot of scholars who don’t want to collaborate (or never learned how), who don’t like to share credit, who worry about the status of unseen collaborators, who don’t know where to put online projects on a CV, and who hate the loss of control involved the whole wonderful mess that is social media. Address some of those concerns and skill gaps, and there’s a chance more would be willing to join in.

    To date, my favorite online scholarly project was the Old Bailey Blog Symposium in 2006, where a collection of historical bloggers all posted short essays based on explorations in the same online primary source. Here’s a blog about the call (the original call link doesn’t work):

    http://www.earlymodernweb.org.uk/emn/index.php/archives/2005/12/cfp-old-bailey-blog-symposium/

    Here was my contribution:

    http://disstud.blogspot.com/2006/02/old-bailey-symposium-perfect-fatuity_12.html

    Natalie Bennett’s was on women burglars:

    http://philobiblion.blogspot.com/2006/02/women-burglars-of-old-bailey-online.html

    This didn’t take over a year to gather up, and it didn’t require a subscription-only paper journal to make it worthwhile and interesting. We need more of this sort of thing.

  3. There was talk at one of the AHA panels in San Diego about putting together a group blog about teaching women’s history. I should follow up with those presenters and see if we can get something rolling. It isn’t exactly what you were looking for, but it might still be useful.

  4. As with Penny, I’ll chime in and say that the OBO symposium was a great experience. It allowed for a quick turn-around and some real back-and-forth on the ideas raised in individual posts.

    Other options might be to use a Wiki format to collect and inter-relate materials or organize the posting of podcast “papers” with a commenter to provide context for the set (and comment boxes to carry on the discussion).

  5. (Note: I was not online in the 1990s, due to disabling illness, ME/CFS. I have been online for a bit over two years, learning slowly = I missed a lot between 1985 and the last 2 years, due to illness.)

    I thought this question was going to be about online interaction involving feminists and history/herstory. (I have a collage “American Herstory, Ourstory, Mystory” online at the Pollock-Krasner Foundation website, done by invitation for the art show “American Herstory”. Sanda Aronson)

    An online feminist history website allowing contributions from non-academics would be nice. Some of us have had training in history (I have 33 grad credits, NYU Graduate Arts and Science in American Civilization from long ago; no advanced degree. I left for art in 1964, the lifelong dream, aided by my adviser, Henry Bramford Parks telling me that I’d never get a job teaching in college as a woman.

    As the women’s movement said in the 1960s: the personal is political. The 1970s saw the women’s art movement (I participated). Just thinking…

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