The Impact of Primary Sources on Lesbian Literature and History: Introductions and Approaching the Materials

Sponsored by AM

Recorded on 11/02/2022
Posted in The Authority File

Episode 289

Primary sources provide unique insights into the past. But for Rachel Friars, a PhD student in the Department of English Language and Literature at Queen’s University, they also offer a context and history that informs the present. More specifically, Rachel’s research in lesbian literature and neo-Victorianism calls for historical queer perspectives that go beyond medical or legal representation, and instead center the presence of a queer record. As Rachel notes, firsthand queer archives can “…[reassure] these queer communities that we’ve always been here, we’ve never been anywhere else, and, in some ways, there’s nothing modern about queer communities.”

In this four-part series, Rachel joins The Authority File to chat about the use and importance of primary sources in her research. She highlights the magnitude of the diaries of Anne Lister, an English woman whose lifelong journal entries on her life, travels, and sapphic relationships act as a significant contribution to the queer historical canon. She also discusses the benefits of primary source digitization, how to walk students through the archives, and the dynamic infrastructure of AM’s Sex and Sexuality modules.

In this first episode, Rachel gives an overview of her area of research in 19th-century lesbian literature and history. In addition, she underscores how archival materials remain relevant in the contemporary context, especially within queer studies. Last, Rachel differentiates her approaches to primary and secondary sources, exploring the obscurity archives hold and the detective work needed to uncover their meaning.

Rachel Friars headshot. Bright yellow background. Woman with short hair, glasses, and maroon turtleneck.
Photo by Meghan Burry

About the guest:

Rachel M. Friars
Doctoral Candidate, Department of English Language and Literature
Queen’s University

Rachel M. Friars is a Doctoral Candidate in the Department of English Language and Literature at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario, Canada. Her current work centers on neo-Victorianism and nineteenth-century lesbian literature and history, with secondary research interests in life writing, historical fiction, true crime, and the Gothic. Her work on lesbian historical fiction has been published with Palgrave Macmillan, The Journal of Neo-Victorian Studies, Lexington Books, Crime Studies JournalQueer Studies in Media and Popular Culture, and is forthcoming in The Palgrave Handbook of neo-Victorianism.

Enjoy the conversation? Listen to the rest of the series:

Check out our previous podcast series with AM, Primary Source Literacy.

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