Since I first started out selecting digital projects for this series, I have been struck by the wide range of forms and types of digital projects that have been and are being developed on Africa and the African Diaspora. Although I could write on digital archives each week (and likely never get through them all), my post last week inspired me to think outside of the box and look at other styles and modes of digital engagement. This week’s featured project, the Queering Slavery Working Group, is one of these new kinds of projects, a digital hybrid merging academic investigation with digital activism.
Founded by historians Vanessa Holden and Jessica Marie Johnson, the Queering Slavery Working Group formed, in their words, “to discuss issues related to reading, researching, and writing histories of intimacy, sex, and sexuality during the period of Atlantic slavery.” These discussions aim to bring together streams of knowledge and discovery in black queer studies, slave histories, African diaspora studies, and other related fields into conversation with one another. This effort is a hybrid one, operating on both digital and analog spaces in order to maintain accountability to both “members of the Queering Slavery Working Group and . . . to the queer of color community at large.” So far, the group has organized a series of digital events, including a Google Hangout with Christina Sharpe and Omise’eke Tinsley, a reading group on Vincent Woodward’s The Delectable Negro and gatherings at conferences like ASALH 2014.
In a presentation at the 2014 Nebraska Forum on Digital Humanities, Holden gave a talk entitled “Tumbling Towards Scholarly Community: A Report on the Queering Slavery Working Group” (you can access the slideshow here). In this presentation, Holden reflected on the choice of Tumblr for the group, particularly the use of altered images of slavery. Holden and Johnson access traditional images of slavery and alters them using programs like Fotor and Picasa, adding hashtags associated with contemporary queer vocabulary. Their goal is posting these images to Tumblr is to “prompt conversations around ways same-gender desire and intimate violence appeared in non-text sources in a forceful assertion of queer ubiquity in the archive.”
The QSWG Tumblr collects these images, in addition to stories about group events, tweets, and quotes from literature all relating to queering the archive of slavery. This choice of this particular platform stems from the group’s dedication to accessibility, as well as an acknowledgment of the “collaborative potential” of Tumblr. Holden acknowledge this potential in her 2014 presentation, noting that
Embedded in Tumblr is social practice akin to strategies enslaved and free people of African descent employed in community formation, politics, and resistance. Delighting in this similarity, the co-organizers curate a visual culture that is playful and provocative, productive and reproductive.
QSWG also utilizes Twitter for each of their events, compiling their results on Storify, then publishing them on the Tumblr (as well as Johnson’s personal Tumblr and website). The QSWG Tumblr really is a compelling site, representing a continuous conversation between all of the members of the group; one that anyone can join in on at any time. If you’re interested in joining QSWG, you can join by filling out this form. You can also follow QSWG on Twitter and Tumblr.