Deconstructing a DH project: Archival Gossip

I explored a Digital Humanities project called Archival Gossip.

Image of Archival Gossip's Blog page.
Archival Gossip’s blog page

What is the goal of the project?

The goal of the project is to push scholars (and other interested readers) to recognize late 19th / early 20th century gossip as a legitimate form of knowledge production by documenting and analyzing gossip from this time period.  The website’s homepage includes two questions which I find helpful in understanding the project’s research goal:

  • what and how does gossip know?
  • what is this knowledge worth?

Which academic fields is the project in conversation with?

The authors of the project tie it to “Literary and Cultural studies.”  I would also tie the project to History and American Studies.

What are the project’s components?

The project’s components include: a collection of (as the authors write on the site’s homepage) “realist fiction, magazines, and private individuals’ life writing” which they have categorized with various tags / groupings, a map, and a blog containing mini essays.

Breaking down the “black box” of Archival Gossip…

What are the project’s sources?

The projects sources are works of fiction, letters, and magazine articles from the time period. The authors found these sources through archives and organizations in the United States like the Library of Congress and various public libraries and historical societies.  They include a list of all of their sources on the site.

What are its processes?

Some of the sources are photographed (or more likely, photos from the archives which originally provided these sources are included in this project), and all of the handwritten sources are transcribed into typed paragraphs. The sources are also categorized and tagged by the authors to create groupings.

How is the project presented?

The project is presented on a website with the various components I listed earlier: a blog, a map, and a list of the sources after they have been processed and grouped.

The project made me think about the value of gossip in a new way.  As I read through the sources and engaged with the website, I came across this quotation which sparked another question in me…

“The project claims that as women are unable (or at least limited in their ability) to participate in the marketplace, their private lives become themselves ‘economic’ and many women become speculators in the stock of their own marriageability and other forms of social capital. In this constellation, gossip – as the seed of rumor and scandal, and as a source of otherwise unavailable or unshareable knowledge – emerges as a prime commodity.”

Archival Gossip

Based on my own experiences reading some of the sources, as well as other work from this time period like novels by Edith Wharton (which I think the site actually references, too), the analysis of gossip offered in this quotation seems very true to me.  I’m wondering, though, about the ways in which our modern lives still depend on gossip as a source of knowledge (maybe you could look at social media to begin answering this question)?  Does our use of gossip today follow this analysis of uses of gossip in the past?  Also, although the conditions of women have changed considerably since the late 19th and early 20th centuries, do patterns still exist which force women to rely on gossip-as-knowing more than men need to?

I really enjoyed exploring Archival Gossip and am very impressed with this scholarship!


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