The Queer Eternal September: LGBTQ Identity on the Early Internet and Web
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This dissertation examines the expression of queer identity and community on the early internet and web, and suggests a methodology for working with archived internet and web sources when exploring the history of marginalized groups. I argue that the explosion of new users which accompanied the popularization of networking technologies between 1983 and 1999 changed and diversified the ways that individuals expressed their own identity, even as these users mediated a codified vocabulary for expressing what it means to be queer. By combining computational methods with traditional close reading, this dissertation suggests a methodology for working with large-scale archived web and internet sources, which can ethically maintain context and significance without losing individual voices. I use a combination of text and network analysis in exploring user interaction and self-narrative within archived internet and web collections. Part one of this dissertation examines the distributed newsgroup service Usenet and the movement of users from one unified “gay and lesbian” newsgroup to hundreds of specialized groups for a multitude of identity categories, including specific sexual orientations and preferences, as well as gender identities. Using text analysis and topic modelling to delve into these large-scale sources, I argue that these archived Usenet materials reveal group tensions, as well as trends in labelling and social organization, during a period when the number of new users and new groups was growing at exponential rates. Part two of this dissertation follows these communities on to a new technology: the web. Faced with a seemingly unlimited platform to gather and communicate, we see user choices constrained by issues of discoverability and monetization, which helped to perpetuate existing queer hegemonies. Through a combination of text analysis and network analysis on large-scale sources like GeoCities.com’s “WestHollywood” community, I examine the implications of the proliferation of an Anglo lexicon for describing queer identity on an increasingly-global stage. This dissertation contributes to the historiography on gay and lesbian history, and suggests methods for researchers engaging with queer and gender theory along with computational methods.
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Sarah McTavish (2020). The Queer Eternal September: LGBTQ Identity on the Early Internet and Web. UWSpace. http://hdl.handle.net/10012/16336