When What’s Important to You..Isn’t Really “Important”

Lauren Klein’s The Image of Absence”,  Amy Earhart’s Can Information Be Unfettered?: Race and the Digital Humanities Canon and Misty DeMeo’s, The Politics of Digitization both had a common theme when reading them: the issue of what information gets to be deemed “important” and the unfortunate consequence of being underfunded, because let’s face it if you aren’t considered “important” in the eyes of popularly known history chances are your funding and your ability to educate on the topic is going to suffer.

I’ve encountered this issue twice within my first year of graduate school. The first time was while doing a research paper and my biggest obstacle was my topic: homosexuality portrayed by Latin Americans in film history. Not only did my topic contain two subjects considered “minority” groups, but I was looking for information in an area that was scarcely seen throughout history. Another barrier I faced was catching onto the language of the 1920s, 30s, and 40s surrounding homosexuality; the word “homosexual” was actually never used when journalists and magazines wrote about stars who were potentially gay, a problem also faced when researching James Hemings as a “slave”, explained by Lauren Klein. How can we find information on specific topics if these words are not blatantly used? This is where specificity comes into play with digital humanities. We must make information as straightforward and easily accessible as we can by being as specific as we can be when digitizing historical documents.  Of course, the information I found was substantial enough to get through my 25 page paper, but it was a challenge to find. While most of the articles I found were reproduced on microfilm there was still an abundance of information I didn’t have access to because of the lack of recorded history. LGBTQ issues were often kept “hush hush” during this era and therefore, there’s a definite lack of information available on the topic.

In another case, myself and a classmate were researching evidence from the Puerto Rican Riots, which occurred in Newark in 1974. However, much of what we did find was physical (newspaper articles, photos, clippings, etc.) instead of digitized. None of what we found was available on the internet or through digital archives of the Newark Public Library or the Star Ledger. This is where the issue of race comes up. There was plenty of information on African American race riots in the area available online, but none mentioning the Latin American (specifically, Puerto Rican) community, which was a large portion of the Newark population at this time. My theory on this, while also channeling my inner Misty DeMeo, is that most of what was logged digitally was the dominant historical narrative, which happened to be the African American voice during the 1960s civil rights era.






About NicoleMelina

Hello all, I'm Nicole. I'm a 25 year old grad student in history at Rutgers University. I'm working on a degree in history, but my passion lies in museums and presenting history in a way that will inspire and educate the public in a non-academic setting.
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1 Response to When What’s Important to You..Isn’t Really “Important”

  1. sheridanleighsayles says:

    Nice post Nicole!
    And yeah . . . none of the 1974 stuff would be online because of copyright issues. There’s been a big push recently to digitize historic newspapers, and most states tend not to digitize anything after 1920-ish because of copyright concerns. It sucks, but it’s where the field’s at right now.

    And as far as your research on homosexuality, I was thinking about how the idea of homosexuality is a relatively recent concept. I know during Shakespearean times, there was “sex the sin,” and lying with someone of the same gender was just considered like a rung on that sin ladder. What I was thinking might be useful would be a timeline of racial/gender/etc terminology to illustrate how this concept would have been referred to during a certain time. If this already exists, I would love to know where. 🙂


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