Print Project Proposal: History of the Language of Queerness

They way we talk about some subject reveals plenty about the subject, but in some ways it reveals more about the people speaking about the subject.  The framework in which some topic is broached, the context in which a conversation takes place, will place that topic in the context of the larger cultural reasoning as defined by rules; both written laws and unwritten social cues.

Inspired by Guldi’s The History of Walking and the Digital Turn; Stride and Lounge in London, 1808-1851, I propose to use Google Books NGram Viewer and the Time Magazine Corpus in order to study the language of queerness and the contexts in which those words have been used.  There are a few phases of recent queer history, including a period in which the topic was a cultural taboo, one in which queerness was considered a medical disorder and was spoken of clinically, and more recently language has been more accepting of queerness.  In order to do this, I will use Google Books NGram Viewer to see when each word for queerness (ex; bisexual, faggot, dyke, queer, poof, faerie, lesbian, etc…) has become most popular, the duration of its popularity, and the moment when it began to decline in popularity.  These results will be compared to moments of legislation relating to queerness (ex; legalization of gay marriage, stonewall, legalization of queer adoption, etc…) in order to gage whether laws and legal actions had an effect on social practices or if social practices had an effect on laws and legal actions.  In order to make sure the ways in which I understand the words’ meanings align with the users’ intentions, I will use Time Magazine Corpus to gain context for the ways in which these words were used over time.

In addition to the main question of legality following social cues or social cues following legality, there are a couple of other questions which can be explored.  While that first question relies on a study of each word’s popularity and decline in popularity, it is also worth looking at the frequently about which this topic has been spoken.  With gaining acceptance towards queer folks and increased visibility, the use of queer words as a whole has increased, yet the question remains when, exactly, those increases happened and in response to what?

Thirdly, and most reliant on a contextual element, I will see which other social factors have an effect on language surrounding queerness.  Already mentioned are laws and time, but social class, race, gender, and personal politics will also have an impact on the which words one uses and how those words are used.  Admittedly, this third question will be the most time consuming and difficult to research and given the time constraints of this class it may be too large a project.  Yet, it can be done and it would be interesting to see the results of this work.

Language is the material through which we build and understand our reality.  Identity is lens through which we view and understand ourselves and others.  Therefore, understanding the way we do speak and have spoken about a group of people can reveal how our ideas and concepts of that group have changed over time and can reveal our history of prejudice and acceptance.

Introduction Post – Chloe Eastwood

When I began to study history as an undergraduate – or perhaps as early as high school – I studied it because I wanted to satisfy a curiosity about people and about the systems and rules by which we live.  I wanted to know what people used to be like, how we had become to be as we are, about what used to matter to people, and how those struggles shaped current ones.  I became fascinated by the history of how people create, live in, and deconstruct ideas like gender and nation, how these ideas define us and how that, too, has changed over time.  This interest led me to read as much as I could on any topic of interest, but what was even more enjoyable were the conversations which came afterwards.  I would chat endlessly about history with other students and with my professors and eventually with visitors to museums and historic sites at which I worked.  They were these conversations which brought me into public history.

The most rewarding part of working in history, for me, is still the satisfaction of having sparked or satisfied someone’s curiosity in a topic, a place, or a story.  These moments would often come by the end of a tour or presentation, when someone had read a newsletter article or walked through an exhibition. Visitors talk amongst themselves, share stories, ask questions of one another, or approach me eager to show off what knowledge they brought to the exhibition or how deeply they understood it.  These conversations have lasted minutes or an evening and in those moments I feel as though I’ve come full circle can enjoy both the process of learning a history story and sharing it so others can satisfy their need to understand their culture, their legacy and themselves.

This is the reason I’ve elected to study public history; I find it immensely satisfying to study and share the past.  More than that I think it’s important to take every opportunity to become the best professional I can become.  People have an innate curiosity and need to know from where they come and from whom they come and they deserve the best experiences our cultural resources can afford them.  Essentially, I am in this program because I enjoy working in history and I want to do a good job both for myself and for others.

The reason I am taking History and New Media is a part of this larger desire.  Understanding digital media and being able to use it are a part of communicating in the modern day and essential to reaching as wide an audience as possible.  One’s access to history ought not be barred by one’s ability to travel, especially when technological work-arounds exist.  Digital media is a powerful tool and it’s best we learn to use it well in order to properly maintain blogs or twitter feeds or newsletters in order to maintain contact with a community and reach out to new potential visitors.  While anyone can start a blog or log into twitter, I hope that through this class I will learn the theory and best practices which  will make my future work benefit from use of the digital media.