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The Beginnings

Women's History in the Digital World
by Ana Stevenson and Kristin Allukian, Fall 2015

This blog is a summary of the work presented at the Women’s History in the Digital World Conference at Bryn Mawr College, May 21-22, 2015.

The Suffrage Postcard Project seeks to understand how feminist digital humanities practices engender new historical narratives of parenthood – motherhood and fatherhood, broadly defined – in early-twentieth-century suffrage postcards. Our primary sources encompass both pro-suffrage and anti-suffrage from the United States and Britain.

Much work has been done on visual representations of women in suffrage postcards and cartoons more generally. Historians and art historians, as well as scholars of gender studies and law, have considered the visual tropes associated with representations of femininity and motherhood, as well as allegorical depictions of tropes such as justice. Broadly speaking, these scholars discuss how the strictures of white heteronormative femininity and the expectations of motherhood were important tropes in suffrage imagery. Much less has been said about how the depictions of masculinity and fatherhood operated in suffrage postcards.

The preliminary results from this digital humanities approach have revealed the degree to which representations of fatherhood and masculinity were central to the construction of both the pro- and anti-suffrage debate. As we move forward, we will consider the tension between men and women, motherhood and fatherhood, the family, and the family of the nation, that was central to suffrage postcards.

The 1910s provide fertile ground for the analysis of the visual representation of masculinity, femininity, and parenthood in suffrage postcards. As Kenneth Florey notes, the suffrage postcard may have been the most popular of all suffrage memorabilia:

“One of the primary reasons for its popularity among activists was that the golden age of the post card, the period from 1902-1915 when post card collecting became an international past time, dovetailed quite conveniently with the final push on both sides of the Atlantic to achieve national suffrage legislation. In America the Woman’s Journal frequently published news, pictures, and advertisements of new cards as did its counterpart in England, Votes for Women. Two British organizations, the Suffrage Atelier and the Artists’ Suffrage League, which had been set up expressly to provide art work for the movement, created a number of fascinating art propaganda cards. Cards were produced in abundance not only by the suffragists themselves but also by commercial publishers.”

Currently, we are in the process of inputting postcards into Omeka. Some of the more important information that we are inputting is the tags and categories for each postcard. The way that we enter the metadata for each postcard creates feminist digital humanities questions.

Our approach to tagging has been influenced by Jacqueline Wernimont’s and Julia Flander’s 2010 article “Feminism in the Age of Digital Archives: The Women Writers Project” in which they talk about how the process of encoding texts for the Women Writers Project entails “many of the same difficulties encountered when reading it.” Since the digital scholar, they write, must “grapple consciously with formal issues that might otherwise remain latent” – issues relating to “categorisation, explication, and description central to digital text markup” – we have asked ourselves: How do we tag the images?

Our preliminary response to this question has been to consider the use of tags such as “public” vs. “private,” “domestic space,” “husband” or “man” vs. “father,” and the semantic differences associated with each choice. We are also seeking to consider the role of emotions in the imagery, and how to capture this in tags.

A version of this blog post was originally published here. The Suffrage Postcard Project can be followed on Twitter (@Suff_Postcards).

Thanks for reading, and we hope you keep in touch to stay up to date with our project!


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