The Impact of Primary Sources on Lesbian Literature and History: Anne Lister and “Slowing Down” in the Archives

Sponsored by AM

Recorded on 11/09/2022
Posted in The Authority File

Episode 291

Although primary source databases now feature technology like handwritten text recognition, keyword search, and—most crucially—digitized versions of physical items, interpreting primary sources still require traditional skills in patience, organization, and general research. For example, Anne Lister, a 19th-century lesbian diarist, traveler, and landowner, wrote hundreds of journal entries throughout her life that add significant insight into queer history. However, she employed her own code for many of the writings, making the texts difficult to understand and decipher. Not to mention, the archives written in English feature hard-to-read cursive, crowded pages, and context particular to that time period and Anne’s life. As Rachel Friars, PhD student in the Department of English Language and Literature at Queen’s University, notes, “The archive…requires a slowing down, getting to know it” that secondary sources often do not.

In this second episode of the four-part series, Rachel describes the collection of Anne Lister, highlighting Anne’s extraordinary life and unique coding used in her journal entries. In addition, Rachel explains how AM’s Sex and Sexuality modules improve her research workflow through increased digital access and an intuitive layout. Last, she reflects on the slower pace that archives require and the comprehensive research needed before digging into primary sources.

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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