COVID-19 and Archival Research: An Introduction

Jennifer Putzi, William & Mary

In the winter of 2021 I became obsessed with a diary. While preparing to teach a first-year seminar on “American Women’s Diaries,” I discovered the 1868 diary of Frances Anne Rollin at the Smithsonian’s Digital Transcription Center. Ignoring the transcription created by volunteers, I began my own, making my way through Rollin’s page-a-day diary late at night, focusing on her handwriting instead of the pandemic. I was swept into Rollin’s world. Twenty-three years old in 1868, when she wrote the diary, Rollin was a native South Carolinian, born into an elite, mixed-race family. Educated in Philadelphia at the Institute for Colored Youth, she returned home at the close of the Civil War to teach formerly enslaved people in Charleston and the Sea Islands. There she met Martin R. Delany, the activist, author, and Union Army officer who had been appointed an agent of the Freedmen’s Bureau, and he enlisted her to write his biography. Returning North in late 1867, she settled in Boston to write the biography and negotiate with publishers. The majority of the diary is written when she is living in Boston, but it also documents her return to South Carolina later in the year, as well as her marriage to William J. Whipper, recently elected to the South Carolina state legislature. 

It doesn’t feel like an exaggeration to say that transcribing the diary and researching Frances Rollin Whipper’s life has, at least in part, gotten me through this pandemic. As my teaching and administrative work intensified, the diary reminded me that there was another aspect to my life as an academic. Using my skills as a researcher to find out more about Rollin’s life and the lives of those around her provided small rewards in days that often felt monotonous and unsatisfying. Her life distracted me from my own and reminded me how lucky I was. And my newfound Zoom skills facilitated my acquaintance with Rollin’s great-granddaughter, whose heroic efforts to recover her ancestor’s memory far predate my own. But there were often disappointments—documents that I could not find online, archives that were closed or that had so few staff that they couldn’t assist patrons. As I think about what to do with this diary now, the biggest obstacle is the fact that I can’t hold the physical manuscript in my hands. Part of the National Museum of African American History and Culture’s collection, the diary is inaccessible to scholars due to COVID protocols. There doesn’t seem to be any sense of when the Museum will allow researchers in.

Thinking about how to proceed with my research, I also wondered: how many of my peers had experienced similar disappointments? Had they found new and inventive ways to work with these challenges? What sorts of collaborations were either prevented or enabled by the pandemic? I began to talk with friends and colleagues and discovered that many of them shared my experience of finding hope in the archive at the same time that the archive felt impossibly out of reach. 

As so much of the work published in Legacy: A Journal of American Women Writers is enabled by and depends upon archival research, the co-editors of the journal want to make these conversations public. Here we present seven linked essays on “COVID-19 and the Archive” to get us started. We hope to post additional pieces as they come in and we encourage you all to post your own COVID-19 and the archive stories on Facebook and Twitter.

These essays are loosely paired together, but conversations occur across and between all seven.  The first two, by Pamela VanHaitsma and Eric Gardner, are about what happens to a long-term project when access to the physical archive isn’t possible.  In VanHaitsma’s case, she was forced to resort to digital scans in the final stages of her book on same-sex relationships between women teachers in the long nineteenth century.  Her fierce longing for the archive was matched by her relief at being able to weather out the first days of the pandemic with her spouse and baby.  Gardner also writes about the ways COVID-19 has brought research, teaching, and parenting all together in the same spaces.  He thinks here about the way his piles of research potentially work like the boxes on his Zoom screen to limit his perspective, to present a tidy picture that elides the complexity of his life, his students’ lives, and those of the figures we study and write about.

Caroline Wigginton and Jennifer Tuttle reflect on the librarians and other staff who made their work possible over the past two years.  Finishing a book on the influence of Native craftwork on American literature, Wigginton found herself needing to look at the work of turn-of-the-century Ho Chunk book illustrator and author Angel de Cora.  Working closely with her “COVID librarian hero,” she reflects, brought home to her the collaborative nature of all scholarship.  Similarly, Tuttle writes about the challenges of archival research when you can’t get to an archive and rummage through finding aids and folders.  In gratitude, she names the many archivists and librarians who have facilitated her research in recent months, insisting that their labor on our behalf be recognized.

The last pair focuses on collaborative projects that initially seemed impossible to transfer to a virtual setting.  Recovering the history of Indigenous young women at the Presbyterian School for Indian Girls in Tulsa, Oklahoma, a team of researchers at the University of Tulsa recounts the difficulties of conducting their work online and in isolated (and isolating) visits to the archives.  Proceeding in spite of these roadblocks has reinforced their sense of the value of the project and of the history they uncover.  Writing about her experiences as a part of the Douglass Day team, Courtney Murray also laments the loss of in-person collaboration, but highlights the potential of online community in describing the first all-virtual Douglass Day event in 2021.  Led by the examples of Anna Julia Cooper and Mary Church Terrell, she and her team used digital tools to reach out to their collaborators, ensuring that everyone could participate in the event, celebrating and reinforcing the principles of Douglass Day.

We conclude with a meditation on COVID-19, archival research, and social justice by Shermaine Jones, whose decision not to pursue a traditional research agenda in the last two years likely resonates with many of us. She reminds us of the need for scholars and institutions to rethink our priorities, particularly if the work of Black women “in this time of global pandemic, racial animus, and revolution” is to be recognized and valued.

Posted in Conversations | Comments Off on COVID-19 and Archival Research: An Introduction

Digitization and Pandemic Parenting

Pamela VanHaitsma, Penn State University

I was in the late stage of research for my next book project when news of COVID-19’s arrival in the U.S. closed down universities, archives and, just as memorably, campus daycares. My project, tentatively titled The Erotic as Rhetorical Power: Romantic Friendships between Women Teachers, is a queer feminist history of rhetoric that recovers the civic contributions of women teachers in same-sex romantic friendships during the long nineteenth century. I argue these relationships, far from being simplistic instances of social constraint or sexual repression, were animated by an erotic of rhetorical power that enabled the women’s public work as teachers of rhetoric and rhetors in their own right.

At the point when archives and daycares closed I had completed most of my research, but I had not yet visited the Cornell University Archives that house the Emily Howland papers, 1797-1938, which contain correspondence from the romantic friendship between abolitionists and freedmen’s teachers Sallie Holley (1818–1893) and Caroline Putnam (1826–1917). My plan had involved completing that in-person research before drafting the full book manuscript during the 2020-2021 academic year. But how could I forge ahead with the archives closed and a toddler at home?

My inner critic still imagines another kind of scholar. This fantasy scholar would not push the book project forward without first seeing all the archived correspondence in person. She would delay the project until she could visit every archive. I am not she. I am still enough of a scholarship girl and working-class striver that I genuinely believed I had to finish the book manuscript so that my tenure materials could report the accomplishment of the goals set out in the prior annual review. So I kept grinding forward, even as the organization of my writing schedule was upended by having a child at home all day. (I did so not by bootstraps, to be clear, but with support from my spouse, in-home childcare providers, and a graduate research assistant.)

My new plan was to request that portions of the Howland papers, Holley and Putnam’s letters especially, be digitized and the surrogates delivered electronically as soon as that option became available. As many archives reopened with limited in-person hours and expanded digitization services, I also requested scans from over ten other archives that housed less significant bodies of records. While waiting for the scans, I wrote as much of the book manuscript as possible so a draft could still be completed that year.

Not traveling to examine the Howland papers in person was a loss that was manageable, but not inconsequential. When I received the digitized letters, they arrived mostly as expected based on the range of secondary scholarship I had consulted. Unfortunately, though, there were a couple specific letters that could not be located in the scans by me or a research assistant. Although I trust the letters exist, I cringe to quote from these letters second-hand, citing lines I have not myself seen in manuscript form, however otherwise mediated manuscript collections themselves are. I take great care to acknowledge the secondary citation without unduly undermining my scholarly authority as an untenured woman.

There is another loss, too—the loss of the queer writer who craves these words not only as scholarly output or progress to tenure, but as the material of surviving and thriving. I call to mind the words of Hil Malatino, who describes his engagement with “trans archives and hirstoricity” as a means for “cultivating resilience,” as a “turning to the historical record for proof of life, for evidence that trans lives are livable because they’ve been lived” (7). I call to mind, simultaneously, Julietta Singh’s characterization of the “erotic relay at work” in the archives, of “the historian’s erotic desire for her archived object” (82). I desire queer and same-sex romantic letters—those of Holley and Putnam, as well as others I have written about—as evidence of acts of resilience and embrace of the erotic. Although the central argument of my current project does not require me to see all of these letters in manuscript form, there remains a part of me that does “desire” them as “proof” of romantic and erotic, professional and rhetorical, lives possible.

At the same time, there was a certain gain in being prompted to examine some of the letters in digitized form—and here the word “gain” brings to mind pregnancy, a body that expands to accommodate the growth of a child whose length is in the 99th percentile. More to the point, it brings to mind a kind of archival shutdown, forced by COVID-19, that I struggle to put in place for myself and my new little family. The last time I traveled to archives, I was well into my second trimester of pregnancy and still not sharing the news in many professional contexts. The trip was physically challenging. It hurt to sit the entire day in the same spot, and something about being pregnant and so far from my spouse left me feeling vulnerable as a traveler. While passionately invested in archival work, I did not want to be in the archives that week. But I also anticipated, rightly so, that I’d want to be there even less over the next year or two. So I went.

During the summer of 2020, I probably also would have gone, because it seemed like the thing I needed to do intellectually and professionally. I had a baby at home, approaching a first birthday, but I had also revised and resubmitted an article when that baby was just weeks old and I was still on so-called parental leave (again, made possible by my spouse). I will try to say it more plainly, though I am still a pre-tenure striver who is pained to say so: it was a relief that I could not go to the archives that summer because of COVID. I did not want to leave my baby, or drag my baby and spouse to a hotel, for a week.

Relief is not the full story, of course. The inequitably distributed havoc caused by COVID-19—and by those unwilling and unable to face facts or take basic precautions to reduce its spread—is incalculable. But I am grateful that I had to stay home that summer with my family. That archives put into place such clear and robust procedures for requesting digitized scans of manuscript collections, which helped facilitate the remainder of my digital research. That I could receive a PDF, study and write about it in my home office while my little one was downstairs with my spouse or a childcare provider, and still enjoy those precious few weekday hours when we get to start and end the days together.

Posted in Conversations | Comments Off on Digitization and Pandemic Parenting

A Stranger in the Archives

Eric Gardner, Saginaw State Valley University

I long ago became that person who maxes out photocopying at physical archives. I want a piece of paper on anything even remotely of interest that I can annotate or sometimes just stare at. A portion of our living room floor is usually covered: printouts of newspaper clippings, letters, census forms, city directories, maps, all sorts of documents—many covered in post-its and all in nice, neat piles until I disrupt them as I try to make sense of what I’ve found and then make new piles.

I long ago realized what I was doing: taking the pieces I’d found, organizing them, and then reorganizing them—as often to highlight gaps and next steps as to articulate facts or arguments. Especially in learning about nineteenth-century African American women, I was never satisfied with any archive, and so I was trying to piece together my own, one more welcoming, maybe less estranged.

I’ve been gathering traces tied to my current book project, Frances Ellen Watkins Harper’s Civil War and Reconstruction, for more than a decade, and I started making piles of paper in earnest perhaps six years ago—moving things around and asking what I had found, what I hadn’t. I spent months hammering out a twenty-page single-spaced itinerary of every lecture and speech I could find reported. And then I visited more archives, wrote to more folks, redoubled my online searching, printed out more stuff, made more piles.

I guess I was as well prepared as I could be to hole up in the midst of a pandemic, dive into my piles of paper, have epiphanies, and draft a wonderful book. But, of course, none of it happened that way. I’ve worked hard and hope the book will indeed be wonderful when finished, but, regardless, I know it will be deeply shaped by my growing concern about my piles, my archive on the floor.

It started as a purely visual thing. I have a standing desk, and I look out over the living room. This makes it easier to clumsily dance among the papers and go type when I think I have something to say. That standing desk was, like so many, a pandemic classroom. Especially in 2020, my students—some of whom I’d met and some, complete strangers to me—were, like so many others, boxes on my screen. My daughters, then finishing high school, were—as I was—also boxes on screens.

And damned if all of those little boxes didn’t start to look a lot like my carefully-fashioned piles of paper—and vice versa.

Now, I’d like to offer a neat narrative where this analogy works perfectly and moves richly to a resolution that fixes all of the problems that have made me make my own archives. A resolution that magically transcends the separation so central to the pandemic, one that makes the world safe for both scholars and archivists and ensures connection between all of us and the voices from the past both recorded and not.

Nope. How far apart we are has just made me think more about how far apart we really are.

I spent a lot of 2020 studying how I could make my online classes more inclusive and supportive—kicked off in part by worrying about my daughters’ intrusive, restrictive high school Zooms. (Their district not only demanded that cameras had to be on, but dictated where they could and could not Zoom from—e.g., no beds.) I thought and read a lot about how those cameras messed with the carefully-curated selves lots of folks put together before they enter physical classrooms: the student who wears hijab in front of her parents but not at college, the queer student who presents differently in our classroom than at home, the student who carefully masks socio-economic status in front of their peers. And I thought a lot about the student who is already hesitant to talk about diverse issues in a classroom space (albeit one I try to make as safe as possible) now having to speak out loud in a dorm room, a commons room, a living room.

It isn’t just that those boxes changed the public and private—a messy binary, I know. It’s that they promise easy connection and instead often encourage assumptions, stereotypes, soundbites, easy conclusions. I started telling my students that, as much as I love to see their faces, they could choose to keep their cameras off as long as we could hear their voices—or, if they could not speak, as long as they could type in the chat. Perfect resolution, not.

And I kept asking if my piles of documents on Frances Harper were the result of me looking through narrow windows, making all sorts of assumptions about what I saw in order to create some neat little narrative: archives as collections of thin little manipulated boxes.

Here’s the rub. I can’t stop doing at least some of that. I mean . . . on some level, that’s what scholars do: we gather, we sift, we organize, we analyze, we share. We’re built on knowing. Biographers seem especially intent on sleuthing and discovering motivations, on “knowing” their subjects. But Harper curated her public self to make things happen—and, yes, I’m thinking very much here about Lois Brown’s comments on Black women strategically presenting private details to spark public action, “death-defying testimony.” [1] But structural racism and misogyny in and beyond our archives sometimes wreaked havoc on what we have left of Harper’s public self, and what I see in these piles is not nearly enough and maybe not right.

For a long time, I’ve considered my home-archiving to be at least a little liberatory—working with a wondrous community of scholars to fix some of the mess of a multiply-biased system of remembering and forgetting, to try to ensure that figures like Harper have some of those neat little archival boxes. I’m still so committed to a reparative literary history, one that is more just—maybe “chaotically just,” to use John Ernest’s phrase—in its methods, assessments, and goals. [2] And when it comes to a figure like Harper, who we so desperately need in our classrooms and our conversations and who has been pulled from our purview by a host of institutional evils, I still feel a flat-out calling to learn and share as much as I can. But I’m still making boxes.

So I’ve been thinking about how to write a biography that admits to not knowing a lot and focuses on actions rather than intentions and motivations. Building from and riffing off of Lloyd Pratt’s sense of “stranger humanism,” I’m wondering about a kind of “stranger biography” that foregrounds difference and not-knowing and resists refashioning difference into the recognizable or the similar, or not-knowing into the fixable. [3] I’m trying to come to those piles of paper with more openness, a better sense of my own positionality, more humility. Better boxes, at least, but maybe, hopefully, more than that, an archive that admits that we are all strangers and still, perhaps, can be community.

In Pratt’s words, I need to remember that “we can stand in solidarity with those who are unlike us (which is to say each and every human being) and understand that they are ‘for themselves’ rather than ‘for us.’” [4] Maybe folks in the archives—physical or not—can practice something akin to what Derrick Spires describes as “neighborliness.” [5] I’m not always sure what this should look like, and it seems even harder to do in this horrific time with the piles of paper on my floor or boxes on my computer screen from my place of comparative privilege (as a white male tenured professor, fully-vaccinated and carefully-masked).

I’m not ready to believe the promise that staying distant now will allow us all to be close again, much as I might want to. I know I need to listen a lot more, to question a lot more, to always remember that Harper and all of us were and are so much more than these collections of little boxes. In the midst of a pandemic that has kept so many of us from libraries and other sites of remembrance, and seen us so desperately struggle to create connections in all sorts of physical and virtual spaces, I’m recognizing how deeply I need to learn to be a stranger in the archives.

[1] Lois Brown, “Death-Defying Testimony: Women’s Private Lives and the Politics of Public Documents,” Legacy 27.1 (2010): 130-139.

[2] John Ernest, Chaotic Justice: Rethinking African American Literary History. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2009.

[3] Lloyd Pratt. The Strangers Book: The Human of African American Literature. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2016.

[4] Pratt, Strangers, 2.

[5] Derrick R. Spires, The Practice of Citizenship: Black Politics and Print Culture in the Early United States. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2019. See esp. Chapter 1.

Posted in Conversations | Comments Off on A Stranger in the Archives

My COVID Librarian Hero

Caroline Wigginton, University of Mississippi

One of my distinct pandemic memories is of sitting in my quiet office on an almost empty campus in October 2020, attempting to write but mostly mourning a cancelled long-term fellowship at a research library. I remember it as a dreary fall day, overcast and occasionally spitting rain against my window. I was supposed to be drafting the fifth and final chapter of my new book Indigenuity: Native Craftwork and the Art of American Literatures (UNC Press, Fall 2022). The book, as the title suggests, is grounded in archival and special collections research, and I thought I had completed the chapter’s research over a year before. That day, I felt grief because, as often happens, I realized I needed to look at some additional materials, ones I hadn’t anticipated until then might be important but which were likely at that research library. A quick check of their online catalog confirmed that the materials were indeed there, a discovery that was entirely unhelpful.

To some, words like mourning and grief might seem overblown. But for me the feelings of purpose and pleasure that come from scholarly writing underpinned by archival research sustain my mind and spirit in the midst of more mundane professorial and administrative tasks. Writing can be painful, slow, anxious until, suddenly, it isn’t. Intellectual euphoria. I had been on the brink of one of those moments as I considered the long career of turn-of-the-century Ho-Chunk book illustrator, artist, author, and teacher Angel de Cora, and then the pandemic brought me up short. I suspected that her circa-1900 book design work—covers, title pages, historiated initials, illustrations, chapter head- and tailpieces—was co-extensive with a multi-century Indigenous practice of repatriating visual and decorative aesthetics to print, but how was I to be sure? I had no access to books, only to tantalizing catalog entries that said things like “illustrated endpapers” and “embellished boards.”

A librarian saved me. Some of the books I was interested in were also held in Amherst College’s Kim-Wait/Eisenberg Native American Literature Collection, which moreover had some of them digitized. I could catch glimpses of what I needed to know. Luckily, I knew the Head of Archives and Specials Collections, Mike Kelly, from conferences. We were friendly and shared academic acquaintances. I suspected he would not find questions intrusive, and he might even enjoy answering them. I emailed him about the bits I could see, asking for clarification when digitizations lacked sufficient resolution or didn’t include the necessary parts or angles. I then asked about books under copyright, for which I could only access tantalizing catalog entries. Mike was my COVID librarian hero, replying quickly from his home while he worked remotely and then, a few days later, going into the stacks and taking digital pictures that he then shared with me, adding in bonus images of things I hadn’t even thought to ask about. We discussed our mutual interests. I wrote more and revised more and then shared a chapter draft. Whether the sun came out down in Mississippi, I’m not sure, but I felt lighter, renewed, eager.

This experience of intellectual collaboration across distance, over email, and through digital image sharing is a consoling one for me. It demonstrates how relationality—something I explored in my first book—underpins publication, in this instance my own practice. That chapter, indeed all my work, is collaboratively created, even if the author, according to the title page, remains just me. Moreover, that experience demonstrates that remote collaboration across institutions and across disciplines and units can help compensate for the stultifying sense of alienation that many of us, including those who conduct archival research, have felt during this long, dreary pandemic season.

But I also understand that my ability to reach out to Mike arose from a multi-year history of in-person encounters that created a relationship and exposed me to his curiosity and expertise. Perhaps someone at the research library where I had planned to be a fellow would have been similarly enthusiastic and generous, but contacting them required more risk and more uncertainty. Additionally, I would have felt presumptuous asking open-ended questions. Indeed, in another instance, I did contact a librarian I had never met, one at an institution I had never visited, but only to purchase scans, not to ask questions or share ideas. What, then, can this experience offer to new scholars and researchers? If I were a doctoral student, could I or would I email a special collections librarian thousands of miles away and ask them my questions, much less expect them to unlock the doors, enter the closed stacks, and join me in my project? Would I have experienced those moments of archival consolation and intellectual exhilaration?

The pandemic has brought loss upon loss, and I mourn truncated scholarship and thwarted relationships, especially for our newest community members. As we slowly restore ourselves and our academic communities, we might ask how to reseed and nurture research networks, including among junior scholars and librarians and other special collections staff. And we should applaud the numerous but mostly unremarked acts of heroism by librarians, archivists, and curators that have helped us weather the pandemic.

Posted in Conversations | Comments Off on My COVID Librarian Hero

Other People’s Labor

Jennifer S. Tuttle, University of New England

In disrupting archival scholarship, the COVID-19 pandemic has illuminated its essential truths. One of the most obvious is the importance of in-person research. I have written elsewhere about how direct access to archival objects (as opposed to their digital surrogates) is indispensable for the rigorous, creative work of archives-based analysis and for literary and historical recovery. [1] Unable to visit archives in person, however, I have also become acutely aware of how essential other people’s labor is to my own work.

Anyone who has attempted archival research during this time can recite the litany of disappointments that thwart our plans, dash our hopes, and kill our joy. Whether due to public health precautions, budget freezes, or staff shortages owing to furloughs, illnesses, or quarantines, many repositories are closed to in-person visits or limit access to those within their institutional community. Even if repositories are open, getting there is difficult. For someone like me, researching California from Maine, making my way to the archives involves exposure to a highly transmissible, airborne virus in taxis, shuttles, buses, airplanes, and airports. Due to understaffing in nearly every unit of my university, my attempts even to complete the travel permission paperwork have been considerably delayed, making it difficult to plan. (And I am one of the fortunate few with a travel budget during these austere times.)

Researching virtually and by proxy is a poor substitute for being there, but as with many things in life since the pandemic began, I take what I can get and am grateful for it. Thus, I have begun by making liberal use of Interlibrary Loan. When that doesn’t work – which is pretty often – I’ve studied finding aids, when they exist, and requested scans of the few archival sources that are easily identifiable. Some days, I am thwarted repeatedly: I now laugh aloud, in a way that is perhaps slightly unhinged, at each new notification that folders thought to contain requested items are inexplicably empty, that “no, we are not loaning microfilm at this time,” that “your request will be filled within two months,” that “we are closed indefinitely.” I have scoured library catalogs, WorldCat, and ArchiveGrid, then picked apart staff directories, emailing and phoning liberally, in attempts to track down obscure items unavailable elsewhere. It is the overworked people replying to my inquiries who lead me to the sources (if extant), who get my answers by looking through folders themselves and checking noncirculating reference volumes because I cannot be there to do these things. It is they who offer valuable suggestions and unsolicited resources, who commiserate and lend an ear.

Although in some cases the long wait to receive materials is positively maddening, I have been pleasantly surprised by how quick and responsive many archivists have been. As I pause here to reflect on this work, though, I see that assessment as grossly inadequate: having to do archival research remotely has made it clear just how many people contribute to the recovery scholarship to which my name alone is attached at publication time. Of course, in pre-pandemic days, I would have contacted people remotely anyway to find out about holdings and arrange in-person visits. That is not what I’m talking about here. I am talking about the people, their own lives and livelihoods even more vulnerable than mine, who have literally made it possible for my work to continue (and I know that there are many more who have contributed in myriad ways, whose names I will never know).

In-person archival research makes it easy to imagine that pursuit as solitary, as we sit in the hush of the reading room and study the sources provided to us. But that work was always already collaborative, and attempting it remotely makes this fact impossible to ignore. This statement alone, however, still feels insufficient to capture the visceral truth of it. I thus close these musings with a list of my collaborators from a mere four months of intensive research between September and December of 2021. Archival scholarship, especially now, depends upon the invisible labor of these unseen multitudes. I thank some of them here by name, listed alphabetically by institution.

W. Marvin Dulaney, Deputy Director/COO; and Safisha Hill, Assistant Director of Education, African American Museum of Dallas

Courtney Seymour, Associate College Librarian for Research and Access Services, George and Helen Ladd Library, Bates College

Stefanie Hunker, Head, Special Collections and Digital Resources Librarian, Browne Popular Culture Library, Bowling Green State University

Denise L. McIver, Research Librarian, California African American Museum

Angela Maani, Reference Librarian, California History Section, California State Library

Gregory L. Williams, Director, Archives & Special Collections, California State University, Dominguez Hills

David Sigler, Reading Room Supervisor, Special Collections & Archives, University Library, California State University, Northridge

Max Bowman, Assistant Director for Public Services, Colby College Library

Julia Gardner, Assistant Director for Public Services, Division of Rare and Manuscript Collections, Kroch Library, Cornell University

Michelle Leasure, Access and Outreach Archivist, Special Collections & Archives, University Library, Georgia State University

Sonja N. Woods, Archivist, University Archives, Moorland-Spingarn Research Center, Howard University

Lisa Caprino and Jazmin Rew-Pinchem, Reader Services Coordinators; Erin Chase, Assistant Curator of Architecture and Photography; and Clay Stalls, Curator of California and Hispanic Collections, Huntington Library

Ruth Atkins, President Emeritus, Lake Elsinore Historical Society

Robert Brown, Librarian III, Information Services, Laredo Public Library

Malea Walker, Reference Librarian, Newspaper & Current Periodical Reading Room, Serial & Government Publications Division; and Amanda Zimmerman, Reference Librarian, Rare Book & Special Collections Division, Library of Congress

Kelly C. Wallace, California History Subject Specialist, History Department, Los Angeles Public Library

Cary Schneider, Library Director, Los Angeles Times

Leslie M. Behm, Special Projects Librarian, Stephen O. Murray and Keelung Hong Special Collections, Michigan State University Libraries

Jenny Robb, Curator, and Marilyn Scott, Curatorial Assistant, Billy Ireland Cartoon Library & Museum; and Laura Bernazzoli, Library Associate 2, University Libraries, Ohio State University

Stephanie Salinas, Administrative Associate, Riverside County Library System

Ruth McCormick, Local History Specialist, Riverside Public Library

Rhonda Evans, Assistant Chief Librarian; Auburn Nelson, Librarian, Jean Blackwell Hutson Research and Reference Division; and Bridgett Kathryn Pride, Reference Librarian, Manuscripts, Archives, and Rare Books, Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, New York Public Library

Betty L. Uyeda, Collections Manager, Seaver Center for Western History Research, Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County

Michele Welsing, Communications Director, Southern California Library for Social Studies and Research

Lorna Kirwan, Collections Manager; and Paul Lynch, Head, Newspapers/Microforms Library, Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley

Molly Haigh, Duplication Services Coordinator; Dalena Sanderson-Hunter, Librarian/Archivist for Los Angeles Communities and Cultures; and Maxwell Zupke, Public Services Assistant, Special Collections, Charles E. Young Research Library, University of California, Los Angeles

Brian K. Geiger, Director, Center for Bibliographical Studies and Research, University of California, Riverside

Delinda Stephens Buie, Curator, Rare Books, Archives and Special Collections, William F. Ekstrom Library, University of Louisville

Bethany Kenyon, Digital Access Librarian; Laurie Mathes, Access Services Librarian; Stew McElhose, Associate Dean of Library Services and Digital Services/Systems Librarian; Cathleen Miller, Education and Outreach Archivist; and Molly Nelson, Interlibrary Loan Coordinator, University of New England Libraries

Christal A. Young, Acting Head, Reference & User Engagement and Assistant University Librarian; Suzanne M. Noruschat, Southern California Studies Specialist, and Claude Zachary, University Archivist/Manuscript Librarian, Special Collections, USC Libraries, University of Southern California

Gayle Martinson, Reference Librarian, Library, Archives, and Museum Collections, Wisconsin Historical Society

Rebecca Maguire, Access Services Assistant, Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Yale University

[1] I have much more to say about the topic of this forum than I have the space to do here, so I take the liberty of citing myself: please see Tuttle, “‘To turn over and over’: The Loss of the Verso in the Virtual Archive,” Women’s Studies, vol. 50, no. 6, 2021, special issue on “Early American Women Authors, Unbound,” edited by Betsy Klimasmith, Renée Bergland, and Len von Morzé, pp. 549-51, doi: 10.1080/00497878.2021.1947281; and “Recollecting Charlotte Perkins Gilman: Archival Labor and Women’s Literary Recovery,” Tulsa Studies in Women’s Literature, vol. 40, no. 2, Fall 2021, special issue on “Women and Archives,” Part 2, edited by Laura Engel and Emily Ruth Rutter, pp. 215-39, doi: 10.1353/tsw.2021.0021.

Posted in Conversations | Comments Off on Other People’s Labor

Our Search to Name the Native Women of the Presbyterian School for Indian Girls

Elizabeth Bailey (Cherokee Nation, Choctaw)

Sara N. Beam

Midge Dellinger (Muscogee (Creek) Nation) 

Laura M. Stevens

Nevin Shane Subramanian

We are collaborative participants in an archival research project begun during the shut-down phase of the pandemic. Our authorial group includes two faculty at the University of Tulsa (TU), one current undergraduate student, one recent graduate, and an oral historian for the Muscogee (Creek) Nation’s Historic and Cultural Preservation Department. Four additional students have been part of or have just joined the group. Our task is to name and tell the stories of the Indigenous young women who attended the Presbyterian School for Indian Girls (PSIG), a residential school founded in 1882 by the Presbyterian Board of Home Missions, in Muskogee, Indian Territory. This school, which admitted its first students in 1885, was chartered in 1894 as Henry Kendall College, and in 1907, moved to the city of Tulsa, becoming TU in 1921. It was part of a network of settler-colonial missionary and educational projects across the United States, with administrators corresponding with each other, and with instructors and students sometimes moving between schools. Alice Robertson, the white child of missionaries to the Mvskoke (Muscogee) people, who was born in the Tullahassee Mission within the Muscogee (Creek) Nation’s post-removal boundaries, became the school’s founding director after working at the Carlisle Indian Industrial School in Pennsylvania. In comparison with more famous (and notorious) residential schools such as the Carlisle School, which over 10,000 Native children attended between 1879 and 1918, PSIG operated on a much smaller scale. Records indicate a student body of between fifteen and thirty in a given year, with students drawn primarily from the Muscogee (Creek) Nation but also from other nations forcibly removed to Indian Territory. We have to date found reference to forty-seven individuals described as students at or alumnae of the school. 

While later stages of our project will entail interviews with descendants of the school’s students along with research in federal and tribal archives, the first stage is focused on the Papers of the Worcester and Robertson Families, housed in TU’s McFarlin Library Special Collections. These papers, which fill sixty-six boxes and seventy-one linear feet, contain the records of a multi-generational missionary family, with a large portion of the documents written by or to Alice Robertson. An inherent irony of our research is that it brings us into frequent, direct, and troubled contemplation of the intersectional contexts of women’s writing and history. Most of our work so far has entailed combing through the prolific writings of a white woman who rose to national prominence as the second woman elected to the United States Congress (and incidentally a staunch opponent of women’s suffrage), in order to find any traces of the Native women ostensibly at the center of her educational work. Robertson refers to her students often, she expresses fondness for them, and her papers contain photographs of her with the students, but she rarely names or describes them with specificity. This juxtaposition of presence and absence is not unusual within the fundraising literature of Protestant missions, which often feature Native peoples as the sentimentalized objects of Christian charity, while erasing them as fully realized individuals with their own ideas, desires, and goals. 

Papers of the Robertson and Worcester families, 1815-1932, 1931-001. The University of Tulsa, McFarlin Library, Department of Special Collections & University Archives.

Documentary and rare book research is traditionally a solitary enterprise, pursued in the quiet of rare book libraries and archives, or, in our more recent digital age, from the computer screen of one’s office or home. Our work on this project to date has both mitigated and intensified a sense of solitude for each of us during the pandemic. This project was conceptualized amidst the physical isolation that defined so much of our world in 2020. An improvised mix of video meetings, email conversations, phone calls, and joint writing activities fostered both peer and mentoring relationships in this environment, and in their own way these adaptations made us more creative in our approach to our topic. At the same time, we have had to acknowledge repeatedly that only so much collaboration and learning can take place when we’re physically separated, with a dense mix of excitement, frustration, and farce framing experiences like remote instruction over Facetime of an undergraduate working with nineteenth-century manuscripts for the first time. This unavoidable fragmentation of our collective enterprise poignantly resonates with the loneliness and alienation that we know marked so much of settler colonial educational initiatives for Native children and their families.

This history of the school is tightly intertwined with histories of land theft (including removal from ancestral homelands and the ensuing generational trauma experienced by Indigenous people), settler-colonial aggression, and the forced assimilation of Indigenous people involving the erasure of their cultures and identities. A timeline of Oklahoma history makes this intertwining clear, with the school chartered just before passage of the Dawes Act (which undermined Indigenous sovereignty through several measures, especially breaking up tribal land into individual allotments), with the school rechartered as Henry Kendall College the year after the Muscogee (Creek) Nation lost its excepted status under Dawes, and with the college moved to Tulsa in the year Oklahoma acquired statehood. Sifting through the archive requires contemplation of a rhetoric of civilizing savages, with a hierarchy of outcomes frankly envisioned for the students based on their complexion and blood quantum.

This kind of work has been hard for the project’s student researchers, most of whom are themselves enrolled members of Oklahoma-based nations. Even as they are learning the labor of archival research (deciphering handwriting, navigating finding aids, handling fragile documents, sorting through mounds of irrelevant material), they are confronting an insidious mix of condescension and cultural aggression that white missionaries directed at their own ancestors. The result is an intermittent reiteration of trauma. The conditions of the pandemic have made this kind of work even more stressful because of its necessary isolation, with Special Collections at first allowing only one researcher in the reading room at a time, and the group meeting only online. The collaboration has thus been an experience more of compartmentalized labor than an organically unified effort, and we look forward to a future when the group can gather together. 

The story of the school is not just one of colonial oppression and Indigenous victimhood, however. By the time of the school’s founding the Muscogee (Creek) Nation had been practicing their own ideas of educational sovereignty. It is telling that the Muscogee Examiners Board, an office of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation Board of Education, had to certify Robertson before she was allowed to teach in the school. The archive also contains a plethora of Muscogee (Creek) Nation history, including a good number of documents written entirely in Mvskoke or in a mix of Mvskoke and English. The archive’s story is in part one of intercultural connections, showing how Robertson’s life became immersed in nineteenth-century Mvskoke ancestors’ lives and historical happenings within the Nation, with many letters between her and Mvskoke leadership. Students make appearances in the archive as individuals and occasionally as writers. The image below is a photograph of an honorifics exercise signed by “Lucy.” This particular image strikes us as representative of our entire project. A young woman has left this evidence of her presence, her education, her effort, her intelligence, her hand holding a pencil and moving it across this page. It is also evidence of a young Native woman’s acquisition of Anglophone literacy and assimilation to the rituals of an invading culture. Can we find her face in one of the class photos? Can we tell the story of her life, perhaps connect with her descendants? As we search for information about the students, we struggle to uncover their erasure, while consciously wrestling with the notion of education as both threatening and enabling cultural survival. 

Papers of the Robertson and Worcester families, 1815-1932, 1931-001. The University of Tulsa, McFarlin Library, Department of Special Collections & University Archives.

This project isn’t solely based on grasping facts but also on acknowledging the deep histories and truths that lay at their foundations. As we work, we each find ourselves, from our various subject positions, contemplating the larger significance of our efforts within the still-unfolding history of settler-colonialism and Indigenous survivance. Collaborations between Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples are critical to truth-finding and the hope of reconciliation for those historically erased from the world we all live in. Before the fall of 2020, the story of the Presbyterian School for Indian Girls and its Indigenous students remained silent, sitting on the shelves. Our work is proceeding with the approval of TU’s administration, with our university’s president Brad Carson supporting us as a commentator on a recent conference panel presentation. In giving this story life, we seek to tell truths and right wrongs in a collective and respectful manner. Working directly with a liaison from the Muscogee (Creek) Nation Historic and Cultural Preservation Department has afforded the students and faculty involved with the project an increased level of connection to and understanding of Mvskoke peoples, language, and history. At the same time, we have learned that while the story of the Presbyterian School for Indian Girls is a significant piece of Mvskoke history, documents supporting its existence are very hard to find within the Muscogee (Creek) Nation National Library and Archives. It is thus a diminished story within the Mvskoke historical narrative and record. Because of collaborative efforts between TU and the Muscogee (Creek) Nation, a complete index of the collection has been shared with the Muscogee (Creek) National Library and Archives for use by staff and citizens. We proceed in our work with the awareness that this archive’s meaning does not belong to TU. This realization enriches our understanding of what it means to live, teach, and learn on Mvskoke land. It also deepens our conviction that this work cannot be done without developing lifelong relationships. 

Limited access to the archive—with occasional closures of Special Collections due to Covid-19 exposures—reminds us that these materials are precious. The slow pace at which the pandemic has forced us to work renders us aware of how delicate the lives of elders and infants are, indeed how fragile the documents of history and the threads of historical narrative are. The project moves on, slowly but assuredly, as we seek to bring these overlooked young women into the light of public awareness, learning and telling their stories. 

A note on terminology:

“Mvskoke” is one of the traditional, non-Anglicized spellings of the more widely known “Muscogee.” We use it here to describe the language, people, and culture. 

“Muscogee (Creek) Nation” is the constitutional name of the Muscogee government and nation. We use it here to describe the government or specific offices.

Posted in Conversations | Comments Off on Our Search to Name the Native Women of the Presbyterian School for Indian Girls

Transcribing Terrell: Douglass Day 2021, Black Women, and Community

Courtney Murray, Penn State University

After transcribing Anna Julia Cooper’s papers for Douglass Day 2020, the Douglass Day team sat in a Zoom room in Fall 2020 wondering how we could possibly plan a celebration in a pandemic. Many of us had begun living with constant exhaustion, isolation, and anxiety. How could we organize a virtual event centered on Frederick Douglass’s chosen birthday, Valentine’s Day, and Black History month? How could we uphold our Douglass Day principles? In these principles, we seek to create Black communal spaces based on a love for Black history; make Black collections of Black women like Cooper accessible to broader communities; recenter how many of these collections, movements, and communities would not be what they were/are without the labor and organizing of Black women; and attempt to disrupt the erasure of Black people, especially Black women, at every level of the archive. But we seriously questioned if we could translate all that energy into a completely virtual event.

Our initial Zoom meetings consisted of the team separating into breakout rooms and sharing our fears but also our excitement at planning Douglass Day in partnership with the Library of Congress’s Mary Church Terrell Papers (“Transcribe Terrell”). In retrospect, the pandemic and the LOC partnership helped the team slow down and think through how a virtual space could challenge yet enhance the Douglass Day experience. Most important, the team renewed our commitment to Black women’s history and that commitment, despite any shortcomings, reverberated throughout all our committee work and the groundbreaking results of Transcribe Terrell.

We let the organizing efforts of Cooper and Terrell lead the way for our team as we navigated the unknown of virtual planning. Within their archives, we saw women organizing for the uplift and education of their communities, notwithstanding the challenges of war, disease, and discrimination. They fought for the recognition of their contributions and the validity of Black history. Douglass became one of the symbols of this effort. After establishing Douglass Day, Terrell proudly reflected, “I am prouder of having made it possible for future generations of Colored children to learn what a great member of their own race accomplished, in spite of insurmountable obstacles and to afford them an opportunity of honoring his memory in the public schools that of anything I have ever done.” She also insisted that, “I and nobody else established Douglass Day—I did so at a Board of Education meeting held January 12, 1897.” Women like Terrell and Cooper enmeshed Douglass’s memory into a communal pedagogy that spanned K-12 education, adult education, and women’s club organizing. Black women’s labor and activism created, sustained, and archived Douglass’s memory but also his symbolism for Black communities. These Black women and their broader networks taught us that Douglass Day is for the people and by the people, and their activism has significantly impacted our advocacy and partnerships. We could not allow the pandemic to stifle their legacies.

Douglass Day started as a hybrid event in 2017 at the University of Delaware, but moving the whole event online was not easy. Usually, we would all be in physical rooms together, eating cake, singing songs, and transcribing. Team members could help transcribers of all ages, sit next to them, and share the wonders of discovery. But in a pandemic, we had to rethink community engagement—specifically, an expansion of our communication and outreach efforts (newsletter, graphic designs, website, social media, lesson plans, transcription/FAQ videos, and day of programming). So, when Denise Burgher (Co-Director of Douglass Day and Co-Chair of the Curriculum Committee) proposed we start a newsletter for Transcribe Terrell, I jumped at the opportunity to assist with our outreach efforts.

Originally, the Douglass Day newsletter was an email intended to disseminate information about event locations, dates, times, activities, and other reminders, but I knew it could be more. I knew it could also be a tool to center the labor, stories, and lives of our team and the Black women we were transcribing. The first thing I learned, as I was familiarizing myself with MailChimp, was that I had to tell a story and to bring us all in as actors in that story. For Transcribe Terrell, we had three main newsletter issues on outreach, resources, and event preparation. The issues included images of Terrell and materials from her archives, event organizers (past and present), Douglass Day cakes, and more to demonstrate that although we were physically and temporally disconnected, we remained a community.

This year for Douglass Day 2022, I have expanded these efforts to include our graphics/flyers and social media engagement. Because we are partnering with the Colored Conventions Project to find Black women in the Colored Conventions, I have imbued all of the newsletters, flyers, and graphics with the ephemeral yet significant essence of these women. Though these women’s appearances were rarely documented in convention records, they were there as fully fleshed women who labored in so many ways to contribute to the conventions. I have seamlessly connected our newsletter and Twitter promotion schedules to ensure that whether our audience loves hashtags or email threads, we are all engaging with these women’s lives as one.

Although we were not able to fully regain the communal aura of an in-person Douglass Day, as a team, we were still able to champion Black women’s activism and intellectual labor through our participants’ voices, cakes, and archival discoveries. This communal celebration traversed academic, organizational, and communal boundaries to reach over 7,600 people internationally.

We hope that you join us for (a more hybrid) Douglass Day 2022. Connect with us on Twitter and at as we celebrate Black women in the Colored Conventions!

Posted in Conversations | Comments Off on Transcribing Terrell: Douglass Day 2021, Black Women, and Community

“Are these poetic times?: A Reflection on Research, Archives, & The Role of the Black Scholar in the Time of COVID-19 and Racial Unrest

Shermaine M. Jones, Virginia Commonwealth University

In January 2020, I returned to teaching from maternity leave. I was excited to be back in the classroom. Preparing my lesson and engaging with my students reminded me of my identity as a scholar, which felt affirming after being consumed by the sleeplessness and exhaustion of caring for my infant daughter. Navigating my roles as an academic and new mother meant pumping between classes and storing my breast milk in a container that camouflaged its contents in the English Department community fridge. Wrestling with the common anxiety and guilt that mothers often feel returning to work, the spatial distance between my home and campus office helped me to maintain healthy boundaries. These boundaries would soon collapse with the growing fear regarding a mysterious airborne virus spreading at alarming rates. By March 15, I was back at home full time with my eight-month old, after my university made the decision to switch to remote learning for the remainder of the semester due to the threat of the COVID-19 virus.

Alongside the anxiety of COVID-19 and its disproportionate impact on the Black community, America experienced a racial reckoning. Black Lives Matter protesters insisted on justice and accountability for the appalling murders of Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and George Floyd. On a local level, students and community members in Richmond, Virginia, marshaled this fervor and momentum to insist on the removal of the Confederate monuments on historic Monument Avenue. I felt rage at the blatant disregard for Black life in the now ubiquitous videos of violence against the Black body circulated gratuitously on the news cycle. The sense of racial fatigue weighed heavy on my spirit as I pushed my daughter in her stroller past the towering figures of Stonewall Jackson and Robert E. Lee, venerated in a perverse romance of “Southern history.” I questioned my role as a Black literary scholar working and living at the intersection of these urgent matters. As I pondered this question, I was reminded of Nikki Giovanni’s poem “For Saundra” in which the speaker questions the purpose of writing poetry in a time of revolution. While Giovanni concludes the poem with the meditation, “perhaps these are not poetic/times/at all,” the poem enacts the work of revolutionary art in revealing the ways that material conditions and political climates impact one’s lived experience, the ability to write, and the subject of one’s writing.

The twin crises of COVID-19 and the virulent climate of anti-Blackness forced me to confront my role and responsibility as a Black scholar and to attend to more critical matters that made the archives, and “traditional scholarship” less pressing. I initially felt shame at my lack of research productivity early in the pandemic, but when I considered the added pressures of childcare responsibilities, I began to rethink my expectations for scholarly productivity. As research confirmed this larger trend amongst women academics, I felt validated in my frustrations. Yet I still questioned whether annual reports and other forms of academic evaluations would account for race, gender, and class inequities in our lived experiences that directly impact scholarly output.

Most importantly, I was encouraged by the words and meditations of Black women writers and thinkers like Nikki Giovanni, June Jordan, and Toni Morrison who have always been my guideposts. I felt emboldened to prioritize my self-care, my child, and work that I found transformative and fulfilling in this urgent moment. Lamenting my inability to peruse the archives and produce traditional scholarship became less urgent. I directed my attention to an ethical teaching practice to support my students as well as community-engaged scholarship that felt relevant and timely given the contestations over the monuments. Specifically, I was invited to contribute to a conversation about what should happen on Monument Avenue. I turned to a Black women writer, this time Claudia Rankine, in her prophetic meditation on the psychic and physiological costs of racism in Citizen: An American Lyric (see contribution here: While this was a short piece and it was not a publication in a peer-reviewed journal or edited anthology, it centers the way that a Black woman writer’s intervention in past historical trauma and spectacles of violence against the Black body can inform the way we choose to understand our moment and offer guidance in how we imagine and create the future.

I hope to return to the archives soon. I am nostalgic for summer 2018 when I spent days poring over June Jordan’s papers at Harvard. I appreciate the increase in digital collections, and remote services for archives and special collections.  For some of my Black women academic peers whose research relies heavily on archives not yet digitized, this period has been devastating for their research projects and has caused great anxiety regarding meeting tenure expectations. I share this anxiety as I consider how my focus on community-engaged scholarship and ethical pedagogy during this period may not be as legible within traditional metrics of academia, with its motto of “publish or perish.” But when confronted with the real precarity of one’s breath and life amidst the COVID-19’s devastation of Black communities, and racial antagonism from state forces and (white) vigilante citizens, the fear of perishing is not metaphoric. Like the Black women writers and thinkers that I research, write about, and engage, I am charting my own path of what my identity as a scholar and writer looks like in this time of global pandemic, racial animus, and revolution.  “[P]erhaps these are not poetic/ times/ at all.” Still, I write.

Posted in Conversations | Comments Off on “Are these poetic times?: A Reflection on Research, Archives, & The Role of the Black Scholar in the Time of COVID-19 and Racial Unrest

Do you have your own COVID-19 and Archival Research story?

Tell us about it! Join us on Facebook and Twitter (@LegacyWmenWrite). Or contact Jennifer Putzi at if you’d like to write a piece to add to this forum.

Thanks for reading and for being faithful supporters of Legacy!

Posted in Conversations | Comments Off on Do you have your own COVID-19 and Archival Research story?

A Response to Baileys’ #reclaimhername: A Forum on the Challenges of Literary Recovery

In early August, the Women’s Prize for Fiction and their corporate sponsor Baileys (yes, Baileys of Irish cream liqueur fame) launched the Reclaim Her Name project, “25 books previously published under male pen names, with the real female authors’ names finally printed on the covers, to honour their achievements and give them the credit they deserve.” These books were made available for free download, with the organizers announcing plans to donate complete print sets of the books to libraries. More than 3,000 writers were considered for inclusion. The series featured George Eliot’s Middlemarch (now identified as the work of Mary Ann Evans), Vernon Lee’s A Phantom Lover (with the name of Violet Paget on the cover), and Michael Field’s Attila, my Attila! (Edith Cooper and Katherine Bradley). The works of a number of writers of color, including Ann Petry, Edith Maude Eaton, and Alice Dunbar-Nelson, were also highlighted.

Despite its rhetoric of finality, however, the Reclaim Her Name project has resulted in far more questions than answers for those of us at Legacy. As Lois Brown puts it, “What does it mean to think about reclaiming? Who is reclaiming, what is being reclaimed exactly, and for whom is this reclaiming being done?” We agreed that a more public discussion was in order. On Friday, August 28th, Legacy, along with the Society for the Study of American Women Writers (SSAWW) sponsored a panel of scholars to talk abou the series and the politics of recovery. Panelists included Lois Brown (Arizona State University); Mary Chapman (University of British Columbia); Brigitte Fielder (University of Wisconsin); Grace Lavery (University of California Berkeley); Christine “Xine” Yao (University College London) and Sandra Zagarell (Oberlin College). Jennifer Putzi (William & Mary), co-editor of Legacy, moderated.

Given the success of the forum, we asked each of the panelists to write up their comments for this more public venue. You’ll find these thoughtful and provocative pieces here on the Legacy website. We’ll also be posting responses from other scholars as we receive them. If you’re interested in having your response–to the panel, to these comments, to the larger issues discussed here–posted, please contact Jennifer Putzi at

Faced with criticism from publications like the Guardian and the Smithsonian Magazine as well as an array of scholars, Baileys has seemingly curtailed the Reclaim Her Name project. If you go to the web page today, you’ll find a brief description of the project, a superficial discussion of pseudonymity, and a vague commitment to donating the series of books to select libraries. There is no list of the books in the series, or the names of the authors included. There is no way to download the texts. There are no images of brightly covered book covers. The series is shown only from the side, with spines out, as if appearing on a shelf. This is, after all, what Baileys intended to create–an object, not a book, in all of its glorious complexity. Authorship itself is similarly stripped of its wonderful complexity, rendered a simple case of “real” or “fake,” “male” or “female.” Baileys is able to drop this project because, let’s face it, they’re in the business of alcohol, not literary recovery. We at Legacy and SSAWW are more than ready to take on that challenge–to continue taking it on, really, as our panelists point out.

Posted in Conversations | Tagged | Comments Off on A Response to Baileys’ #reclaimhername: A Forum on the Challenges of Literary Recovery