K.J. Rawson, assistant professor of English at the College of the Holy Cross, was one of seven winners of the 2013-14 American Council of Learned Societies (ACLS) Digital Innovation Fellowship. He received an $84,700 grant to pursue his project entitled “Building the Digital Transgender Archive,” the first digital archival collection of transgender-related historical materials.
“I’ve been doing research related to transgender history since 2005 and I have learned time and again that it can be very difficult to figure out which archives collect trans materials and what their collections include,” said Rawson. “As I continued gaining research experience and networking with others interested in trans history, I met more and more researchers and archivists who shared my concern that trans materials can be unnecessarily difficult to locate and access.”
The ACLS selects its fellows for this prestigious grant by deeming the projects’ potential to move beyond basic digital capabilities to accomplish widely influential, digital scholarship. Rawson’s project involves creating a website to serve as a central location for transgender historical materials, streamlining the search for researchers to access transgender historical materials. The website will include a searchable database of metadata and select digital content from a number of archives in the United States and Canada. The Digital Transgender Archive will virtually merge the separate archival collections together with a flexible database, which contains a range of metadata.
“I am interested in how archives impact researchers with things like classification and cataloging, the language used to describe historical materials, and the archival environment,” said Rawson, who cites his unique perspective as a rhetorician as an advantage when analyzing archives. “After having spent so much time thinking rhetorically about archives, it’s certainly challenging to flip the script and build one myself.”
Rawson will begin constructing the basic skeleton of the website this summer, specifically focusing on how the website will be organized to make a large amount of information easily accessible. He plans to collaborate with Holy Cross’s ITS department to build the website and database, with a beta version of the website completed by the end of the year.
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