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First of Its Kind Digital Transgender Archive to Receive Funding Extension

ACLS to give $150,000 grant to English professor for continued research
May 10th, 2017 by 

Tom Rettig

K.J. Rawson, assistant professor of English at the College of the Holy Cross, received an American Council of Learned Societies Digital Extension Grant to continue his work on the world’s first Digital Transgender Archive (DTA), an online collection of transgender-related historical materials, which launched in January 2016.

“The DTA is an accessible online clearinghouse for transgender history,” says Rawson. “It’s been incredible for us to hear from people who are making use of the site — from teachers who are using it in their classrooms to trans people who are learning more about their history. Building off the previous support we received from ACLS and the ongoing support of Holy Cross, this new grant will allow us to dramatically expand our holdings and begin collecting in areas that aren’t yet represented on the site.”

The collaborative repository already contains more than 2,100 digitized primary source historical materials including oral histories, personal papers, organizational records, serials, photographs, and ephemera, all contributed by more than 32 collaborators from six different countries (Canada, Germany, England, Norway, South Africa, and the United States).

The site currently gets 3,000 unique visitors per month. Since the site went live it has had more than 33,000 unique visitors.

Approximately 26 students have worked in the DTA lab and this $150,000 grant will allow for six more paid student researchers and a full-time professional coordinator. It will also fund the digitization of approximately 1,600 items that will be accessible on the site, provide access to a total of 5,000 digital objects, create improved website design and navigation, and develop deeper collaborations with partner institutions.

“Although dozens of archives collect transgender-related historical materials, these materials are notoriously difficult to access for several reasons: transgender materials are rarely described as such, archives that collect these materials are largely disconnected, very little information about these collections is available online, and even fewer materials have been digitized,” says Rawson. “The DTA addresses these research barriers by dramatically improving access to transgender history.”

“The DTA’s ultimate goal is to shed light on transgender history, a field that is generally under-researched and often goes unacknowledged, in order to bring a voice to this marginalized community,” explains Mithra Salmassi ’19, an English and psychology major with a concentration in Gender, Sexuality, and Women’s Studies, from Worcester, Mass., and a DTA team leader. “We have a huge backlog of materials ready to be processed into the database– there are more items to publish than we have people to do it. This extension grant will help us pay more research assistants and hire a full-time coordinator; therefore, helping in the DTA’s mission of expanding access of the trans narrative to the general public.”

Rawson received a 2014 American Council of Learned Societies Digital Innovation Fellowship, which is awarded each year to a handful of academics to advance digital humanistic scholarship.

The project has received international media coverage in a range of outlets including The Advocate, The Boston Globe, The Chicago Tribune, National Public Radio, and The Smithsonian Magazine.

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