CHI Fellow Introduction: Sara Bijani
I am a historian of the contemporary United States, with research interests in the areas of gender and political culture. This fellowship presents an exciting opportunity to learn methodological skills that will strongly enrich my future work, as the temporal and social dimensions of my research are well suited to the unique narrative structures that digital scholarship provides. More specifically, my dissertation project explores the interactions of activist coalitions, federal urban policy, and municipal governance in the late 20th century United States. Within this context, I study the intersections of formal politics and outsider identities in large municipalities, with an emphasis on those coalitions and politicians whose activism reshaped structures of governance in several large cities during the culture wars of the 1980s. I am principally interested in a small wave of women who were elected to mayoral offices in large U.S. cities during the 1970s and 1980s, as well as the local coalitions that made these elections possible. I argue that these women mayors in the late 20th century U.S. demonstrated a spectrum of sensitivity to sex, gender, race, and other identity based experiences of injustice that cannot be simplistically reduced to their own individual sex identity, but that also cannot be entirely disassociated from the situated cultural experience of being sexed in a particular time and place. Uncovering these experiences—many of them retained by living people—requires the development of a toolkit that incorporates but goes beyond the archival methods traditionally employed by historians.
I recently completed an intensive and inspiring two week summer institute in oral history at Columbia University’s Interdisciplinary Center for Innovative Theory and Empirics, where a fair amount of the workshops emphasized the unique challenges and opportunities of digital curation within oral history archives. As Doug Boyd compelling (and repeatedly) warned the fellows at this institute, the promise of digital access is still very much a work in progress for most archives, as the sheer volume of the collections makes accessible curation extremely difficult. As a CHI fellow this year, I hope to develop a pilot version of a recyclable digital gallery interface for oral history collections here in the Michigan State University libraries. Recognizing that this is a very lofty goal, I do hope to produce something that will add to the library’s ongoing digital initiatives in a useful and meaningful way. Stay tuned to find out what that looks like![image: A “pro plan” delegate at the 1977 National Women’s Conference in Houston, Texas clipped from the National Commission on the Observance of International Women’s Year. “The Spirit of Houston: The First National Women’s Conference: An Official Report to the President, the Congress and the People of the United States.” Washington: U.S. Government. Printing Office, 1978.]