After last week’s post, I decided to further explore the “rabbit hole” of porn in the archives. In “Digital Archives and the History of Pornography,” Sarah Bull argues that porn historians must “become archival magpies” to glean information on “authorship, material production, and consumption” (402). Mixed animal metaphors aside, Bull casts digital technologies as a tool through which historians can – in a sense – accession, process, trace the provenance of, and publicize their materials. Historians can act as historiographers and amateur archivists.
These symbiotic roles beg the question – why/how are historians of taboo/obscure topics (e.g., pornography) forced to chase down either seemingly nonexistent materials or riffle through unidentified primary sources? Why/how have our social stigmas, cultural norms, and political regulations (e.g., homophobia, Puritan ethics, censorship) shaped the way we compile and organize our archives?
Bull examines the way online databases and physical archives resolve issues of research overlap. Academics tend to poorly cite their archives; Bull observes that they also “rarely describe the full body of materials examined, or how to locate them” (403). Historians must engage in a free exchange of bibliographies to fill gaps and, arguably, build an informal “archival community.” Comparable to what Mark Greene suggests in “The Power of Archives” (fortifying an archivist identity), historians must discover a greater sense of collectivity – “the labor involved in researching pornography’s past could be significantly reduced if scholars pooled information about where and how to find extant primary sources” (404). Social media, sharing sites, and databases allow for more expediency and communication.
However, archivists would no longer be obliged to mediate exchanges between scholars. Besides “digital spaces,” what else can archives and archivists do to bring scholars of a particularly under-recognized field and their work into “closer conversation with one another” (404)?