sam nicole herron

2024 author note: this was an undergraduate project I last worked on in 2017. It is incomplete and will remain that way indefinitely! SNH

queer in swarthmore publications: a spreadsheet in progress


Queer in Swarthmore Publications (or QUISP) is a project dedicated to "cataloging" evidence of Swarthmore's queer and trans history by identifying, tagging, describing articles in the Phoenix, Swarthmore's independent campus newspaper since 1881. By producing intentional and thoughtful metadata of these articles, the digitized Phoenix archive can be better accessed by those interested in how the history of Swarthmore (and its documentation in a student publication) was, and continues to be, shaped by the presence of queer and trans community members.

The Phoenix has been digitized by Swarthmore Libraries from its first issue in 1881 to the issue published on April 28th, 2011. The Phoenix website picks up where this digital repository leaves off (I think - the Phoenix website is regretfully fairly difficult to navigate chronologically). Both of these resources are available online and to all, but their interfaces and limited metadata allow for little open inquiry: one can search for a specific words or names, but text search can only get you so far. What if you don't know what you're looking for? What if you're looking for something hidden?

The Phoenix archive is home to an incredibly rich and very large volume of information about Swarthmore's past: News articles provide (purportedly) factual accounts of events and incidents, opinion pieces give insight into Swatties' views on the world at large, letters to the editor give space for back-and-forth conversations on campus issues. Sex columns, comics, pictures, sports coverage all give a glimpse into Swarthmore life at the time of their original printing. Importantly, the Phoenix has reliably been published for over a century; a careful examination of the Phoenix allows for exploration of change over time in campus tenor, political opinions and ideals, language, greivances and celebrations.

Though the Phoenix archive is accessible - in that anyone with an Internet connection can look at any back issue of the Phoenix - this wealth of knowledge is largely unusable, as the human labor of organization, curation, and connection has not yet been done. QUISP is an exploratory mission - a first attempt at diving into the mass of the Phoenix text and coming out with something searchable, usable, useful. QUISP is an attempt to make more navigable the Swarthmore historical record stored in the Phoenix.

Queer and trans archival material, at Swarthmore and more globally, face the same sorts of obstacles as the archival material for other sorts of oppressed identity groups (women, people of color, low-income individuals, differently abled people...): These histories have been ignored, over-written, intentionally destroyed. I chose to look for queer and trans material in the Phoenix, firstly because I needed a final project for the course Bring Your Own Body: Transgender Between Archive and Aesthetic, but also because as a participant in Swarthmore's queer present, I feel that its queer past is obscure to me. As a queer woman Swarthmore student with gender & sexuality studies and library experience, I felt comfortable (enough) taking on this particular set of subject matter. However, similar projects regarding any number of Phoenix-hidden histories could be taken on in a similar manner. I hope QUISP will not be the only project of its type!

what's the deal with queer archives?

how was the QUISP spreadsheet created and why is its data kinda shitty?

how do I use QUISP?