We’ve talked a lot about how history is converted into digital media, and I think one of the greatest uses for history is in public education on how the status quo on any particular social issue came to be. In light of that, for my digital project, I’d like to create an interactive world map divided up by continents, and use that to show how same-sex love and other forms of attraction and sexuality, what we call in modernity LGBTQ+, was conceptualized across different places and times.
There is a paucity of round-the-world LGBTQ+ stories from a historical perspective. In fact, the usual treatment of this kind of material has been slipshod in scholarship and even, in those areas that do have it, encompassing straight up lies: mistranslated objects, etc., just generally very bad history.
My goal would be to make something that was accurate but also inclusive, so we could show in quick snapshots how what we would today call LGBTQ+ people existed, persisted, and sometimes resisted as communities.
The map itself will just be a simple clickable continents map, which when clicked will bring up relevant stories, sources, objects, and information about queer history on that continent. Asia, for example, might have lists of info about the terms cut-sleeve boy or wakashudo, and examples of works of art or literature of same-sex love: for example, Pu Songling’s Strange Tales from a Chinese Studio or the ukiyo-e prints of Japan.
The virtue of having this a digital project is immediate: it’s inviting people interacting with the project to think on a more broad scale as to how a biological fact—attraction and sexuality between people of the same gender occurs naturally in the human population—has been viewed and understood across different time periods and in different cultures.
This is quintessentially made possible by a digital project—a paper requires one to get in detail about one particular period and place, whereas this is history on a broader scale, to see how one biological inclination was viewed in umpteen different cultures around the world. As a paper, this would be broad to the point of uselessness. As a digital project, however, it’s actually useful and natural as a topic. Digital projects work well in more survey courses style of historiography, after all.
For my terms and information about historical predecessors to what we now call the LGBTQ+ umbrella, I’ll be turning mainly to queer theory as well as historians with a focus on same-sex attractions in history.