TRANS-versing Boundaries Between Archival Materials and Digital Humanities as a Lowens Fellow


by: Sky Dragushan, Lowens-Libraries Fellow

This past Spring semester, I took part in the Peter and Ana Lowens University of Victoria Libraries Special Collections Fellowship Program. This research fellowship is based in Special Collections and University Archives at the Mearns Centre for Learning - McPherson Library. In addition to completing a research project, I participated in workshops on Book History, Exhibition Design, and Archival Theory with the rest of my cohort. Along with the guidance of Heather Dean, Associate Director of Special Collections, Lowens Fellows received further mentorship from a librarian mentor and faculty mentor. I completed the Lowens Fellowship in my third year of an Art History and English degree, hoping to eventually complete my Masters of Archival Studies and Library Studies. My research interests include the intersection of queer theory and library studies, which is partly why I enjoyed my project so much!

Unearthing Transmasculine Histories

I researched the publication history of the FTM newsletters, held in Special Collections. “FTM,” or “Female-to-Male,” was a periodical for trans masculine peoples and issues, that published newsletters from 1987–2008. FTM was created by Lou Sullivan and later spearheaded by Jamison Green and additional volunteers. I curated an online and physical exhibition introducing FTM, titled Unearthing Transmasculine Histories, currently displayed on my Omeka site and in the Special Collections Reading Room. My physical exhibit will remain in the Reading Room until it closes in August 2024.

The FTM newsletters

Originally, I was drawn to the Transgender Archives at UVic — the largest Transgender Archive in the world — because I wanted to research trans histories. I chose FTM because those stories resonate deeply with me, and I have many transgender friends currently transitioning from female to male. As a non-binary person myself, I was curious about past treatment of trans individuals and important issues in the trans community.

Dragushan's Omeka website

To complete FTM’s publication history, I read through every issue and watched the Libraries’ “FTM Newsletter Panel” and “Word of Mouth” panel. Additional research supplemented my project with biographical details, but the three sources above were instrumental in constructing a comprehensive publication history. I utilized workshop strategies from Christine Walde’s “Approaching Creating Collections with Archival Objects” and Samantha MacFarlane and Dean’s “Exhibition Planning, Design, and Writing" workshops. Additionally, Dr. Matt Huculak’s workshop on Omeka site design helped me seamlessly transition my research and the building of my exhibition onto my Omeka page. My mentors librarian Pia Russell and Dr. Aaron Devor were instrumental in providing ideas, support, and cheering me on!

Through my research, I learned just how necessary FTM was both to individuals reading the newsletters, and in creating medical reform to better serve the queer community. I also appreciated Jamison Green’s careful tracking of financial records and personnel. In the 1980s, 90s, and early 2000s, Green knew just how impactful the work he was doing was, how needed FTM was in the queer community, and documented it accordingly.

Unique to the 2024 Lowens cohort was the sheer volume of workshops we completed. In past years, Lowens Fellows completed about 6 workshops but we couldn’t decide which workshop to cut so we did them all! Completing a new workshop with the Lowens-Libraries cohort imbued a sense of community into the learning we did together, and was such a lovely way to end each week.

My Lowens-Libraries Fellowship experience directly provided me with concrete skills to bring into future projects and workplaces. I familiarized myself with Dublin Core and general library based metadata practice through workshops and building my Omeka site. I learned about contemporary issues in the GLAM (Galleries, Libraries, Archives, Museums) field, such as the libraries' current initiative to update Library of Congress tags with more accurate terminology, using databases like Homosaurus. From Dr. Devor, I learned about ethical conduct when conducting research in a queer archive, and the importance of safeguarding sensitive personal information in today’s digital world.

Finally, my Lowens-Libraries Fellowship project experience allowed me to reach out to and engage with the broader archives and library community. I am proud of my Omeka site, and that anyone can access my work on trans histories regardless of institutional affiliation. In April, I attended Crossing Fonds in Vancouver, an interdisciplinary archival conference focusing on Digital Humanities (DH). I presented my fellowship research as a student presenter, discussing the early internet’s impact on trans communities and my experience with Omeka. Utilizing my DH knowledge, I was able to engage with other DH librarians at the Digital Humanities Summer Institute (DHSI) in June. I greatly enjoyed these opportunities to discuss and deeply engage with pressing issues in libraries and archives with presenters  — opportunities I would not have had if not for the Lowens-Libraries Fellowship program.

I am so grateful for the Lowens-Libraries Fellowship program as a phenomenal early career stepping stone. I had so much fun working with everyone involved in the program, and I have finished my project with skills directly applicable to my future endeavors.