This time last year, I noted that attending the Women in the Archives conference at Brown University gave a colleague and me the idea that we might be Brown groupies. This year, many of the usual suspects were absent for various reasons, and even though I missed those familiar faces, I found the conference as stimulating as ever.
I began attending the conference in 2009, a few years after it began. I had been learning text encoding from Julia Flanders and Syd Bauman of the Women Writers Project since 2004, and my own research on Eliza Baylies Wheaton’s 1862 travel journal had evolved into a presentation I was ready to offer in a conference setting. Because one focus of Women in the Archives that year was celebrating the twentieth anniversary of the Women Writers Project, I met many people who had been involved in the project at one time or another. And since interdisciplinarity features significantly in the conceptualization of the conference, I learned some interesting things about the multivalence of terms like “historian” in a room where archivists, historians, programmers, and literary scholars come together to discuss archives broadly conceived.
Interdisciplinary studies have always appealed to me at the same time that my disciplinary focus as a historian has remained relatively clear. As an undergraduate, I double majored briefly in English and History, deciding eventually that I was more a historian than a literary critic. If I had known about Cultural Studies, my academic life might have been quite different, but as much as I enjoyed English literature, I allowed myself to be drawn in to historical study of the United States as both my undergraduate focus and my graduate field.
Interdisciplinarity kept cropping up, though. My graduate advisor held a Ph.D. in American Studies. Since my dissertation research focused on intentional communities, utopian studies appealed to me. And because courses in U.S. Women’s History are a pillar of my teaching, Women’s Studies has long been an institutional focus for me at Wheaton College. Added to a long-term interest in how technology could be a tool to enhance teaching and learning, my scholarly evolution has followed this trajectory through using text encoding in the classroom into Digital Humanities.
So I feel at home at Women in the Archives, and I take considerable pleasure in hearing about the work of colleagues considering archival projects from multiple perspectives. Ideas from the paper sessions continue to percolate, and conclusions have yet to distill. At the moment, I think, I just want to celebrate the pleasure of two days spent hearing about teaching, GLBT community archives, subversive archival practices, medieval women, development of longstanding women’s archival institutions, and contemporary immigrant communities–all at the same conference.