SUMMARY:Can you name an Arab women’s rights activist from before 1950? The names of Huda Sha`rawi, Nazira Zayn al-Din, and Duriyya Shafiq may have come to mind. We know of Sha`rawi, Zayn al-Din, and Shafiq because their books and autobiographies have been translated and published in manuscript form, thus rendering their histories accessible in libraries worldwide. Of course, they were not the only activists who left behind rich written records of their lives and activism during the late Ottoman period, through European occupation, and into the era of independent statehood. The sources in Iranian, Turkish, Kurdish, and Armenian women’s histories are similarly limited to the names of a few activists whose works have been translated and published.
We envision this roundtable on digitizing sources in women’s and gender history in the Middle East as serving two purposes. The first is providing a platform for sharing experiences about the process of digitizing sources in women’s history in the various ethnic and religious communities within the larger region. How have scholars writing histories that address the lives of women and that explore gender and sexuality in the Middle East started to think about, and act upon, digitizing sources? What challenges and opportunities have projects focused on digitizing sources in women’s and gender history presented? What lessons can be learned from others’ experiences in creating a digital platform for preserving and sharing sources in the histories of women, gender, and sexuality? What are the different digital technologies that can be utilized to preserve and share sources?
The second purpose of the roundtable is to bring together scholars and activists who are active in the field of women’s and gender history to discuss the feasibility—and desirability—of creating a common digital platform, or series of interconnected platforms, for making sources widely available to the public. Would the larger fields of women’s and gender history and the history of sexuality in the Middle East benefit from connecting discrete digitization projects? Women’s Worlds in Qajar Iran and Women and Memory Forum (Egypt) set the standard in the field. As these path-breaking projects demonstrate, digital humanities projects on the histories of women, gender, and sexuality in the Middle East are generally fragmented by nation-state or language group.