Skip to content

Digital Archives and the Public Sphere

By Liz Polcha

The panel on “Archives for the Public Sphere” at the NULab Conference on March 24th, 2017 featured three presentations on a few of the digital archives housed at Northeastern: Elizabeth Maddock Dillon’s “Archives, the Commons, and the Public Sphere” on the Early Caribbean Digital Archive, Sarah Connell’s “Writing, Reception, Intertextuality: Networking Women’s Writing” on the Women Writers Project, and Will Bond and Sarah Payne’s “Margaret Fuller’s Foreign Correspondence” on the Margaret Fuller Transnational Archive.

Elizabeth Dillon opened the conversation with the concept that digital humanities both offers new possibilities for the public sphere, but also risks reproducing colonial and patriarchal structures in the archive. In countering these risks, Dillon suggested that DH can take advantage of algorithmic restructuring to remix the archive, altering what might count as a public and what might count as knowledge.

Sarah Connell’s presentation (slides) raised a similar question of representation specifically in relation to the exclusion of women writers in the archive. Connell focused on Women Writers in Review, a recent initiative of the Women Writers Project to collect reviews and other texts from the eighteenth and nineteenth century responding to early women’s writing. Connell asked, how does one build an archive that uses the potential of the digital to confront the exclusions of women? The interface design for Women Writers in Review focuses on navigation through metadata, which highlights women’s participation in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth public spheres.

Will Bond and Sarah Payne (Prezi link) also spoke on exclusions in the archive, specifically in regards to the transatlantic nineteenth-century author Margaret Fuller. Bond and Payne explained how the Margaret Fuller Transnational Archive, an Omeka archive that incorporates texts by Fuller as well as those in her literary circle, offers alternatives to the biographical readings of Fuller’s work with guided framing, suggesting ways of reading otherwise obscure or elusive texts. The project’s translation initiative aims to translate Italian texts into English, and also to translate English texts into Italian, opening up the project to multi-lingual accessibility. Overall, “Archives for Public Sphere” served as a lively discussion of archival absence and the possibilities, and limits, of the digital humanities.

More Stories

An image of the room where the NULab 2024 Spring Conference was held

NULab Spring Conference 2024 Recap

A wordcloud describing the most search words with slavery and American largest

NULab Research Project: LLMs, Literature and History


Eleven Plus: A Generation Poised