The Queering Slavery Working Group

This tumblr focuses on reading, researching, and writing histories of intimacy, sex, and sexuality during Atlantic slave period.

Plantation in Louisiana in the United States. Image by SeanBJack, via Flickr CC.

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.

  • As always, feel free to send me suggestions in the comments or via Twitter of sites you might like to see covered in future editions of The Digital Archive!  Check back next time for a user-recommended review of Nigerian Nostalgia!

Further Reading

A power crisis

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Cinematic universality

Fatou Cissé’s directorial debut meditates on the uncertain fate and importance of Malian cinema amidst the growing dismissiveness towards the humanities across the world.

The meanings of Heath Streak

Zimbabwean cricketing legend Heath Streak’s career mirrors many of the unresolved tensions of race and class in Zimbabwe. Yet few white Zimbabwean sporting figures are able to stir interest and conversation across the nation’s many divides.


After winning Italy’s Serie A with Napoli, Victor Osimhen has cemented his claim to being Africa’s biggest footballing icon. But is the trend of individual stardom good for sports and politics?

The magic man

Chris Blackwell’s long-awaited autobiography shows him as a romantic rogue; a risk taker whose life compass has been an open mind and gift to hear and see slightly into the future.

How to think about colonialism

Contemporary approaches to the legacy of colonialism tend to narrowly emphasize political agency as the solution to Africa’s problems. But agency is configured through historically particular relations of which we are not sole authors.

More than just a flag

South Africa’s apartheid flag has been declared hate speech by a top court. But while courts are important and their judgments matter, racism is a long and internationally entrenched social phenomenon that cannot be undone via judicial processes.

Resistance is a continuous endeavor

For more than 75 years, Palestinians have organized for a liberated future. Today, as resistance against Israeli apartheid intensifies, unity and revolutionary optimism has become the main infrastructure of struggle.