20 Jun 2024

From Hyperlinks to Queer Histories: Uncovering LGBTQ Web Archives


In 2023, as KB Researcher-in-Residence and fellow at the Center for Advanced Internet Studies (CAIS), I started to study the unique collection of archived LGBT+ websites the National Library of the Netherlands (KB) holds. In my previous blog I outlined how I prepared a dataset. In this blog, I will briefly review steps subsequently taken and the future that lies ahead. 

With the help of a script developed by Hanna Koppelaar, which we finetuned, we extracted all hyperlinks from the corpus of hundreds of LGBT+ websites (2008-2022). Analyses of this dataset – including network analyses, or historical hyperlink analyses, using Gephi – are ongoing, but I have already presented interesting findings at various venues and will continue to do so in the next years. Besides presenting internally at the KB and CAIS, I have shared my work at a Cultural Analytics Lab meeting in Amsterdam and at conferences in Prague, Vienna, Southampton, Paris, Hilversum and Utrecht. I made sure to present at conferences related to both the topic (e.g., the LGBTQIA Research Day 2023), web archives as a source (IIPC Web Archiving conference 2023 and 2024), and method (Sociohistorical Network Analysis conference 2024). For a full overview, see here

This is also the moment to look back and thank the team I worked with. The project would not have been the same without the close collaboration with Willem Jan Faber, Iris Geldermans and Michel de Gruijter. A highlight was the article that Iris and I wrote for the journal Informatieprofessional (in Dutch), which – also due to its beautiful design – is a wonderful example of what in current academic lingo is referred to as valorization: bringing scholarly work to a wider audience.  Special thanks also go to all KB staff working on the web archive. You are instrumental in preserving the past, especially the histories of marginalized groups. As I argue in the first peer-reviewed article my project has resulted in, ‘Doing LGBTQ Internet Histories Justice: a Queer Web Archive Manifesto’ (Internet Histories, 2024), the KB has done a terrific job, and other libraries should follow suit.  

The article also argues that scholars should finally start using existing queer web collections. In the next years, I will continue to do so and, thus, hope to inspire others and prompt more web archive research. More articles will follow, e.g., on the networks that religious LGBTQ websites formed, as well as on the relations between websites of transgender and gay organizations. I am excited that the Netherlands Organization for Scientific Research (NWO) has recently awarded my project ‘A Marriage of Convenience? A Web-Historical Analysis of the Relations between Transgender and Gay Organizations (2008-2023)’ an NWO SGW Open Competition grant for excellent, curiosity-driven research. The acronym LGBT suggests a natural alliance between lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people. However, it masks the fraught history between ‘LG’ and the only recently added ‘T’. Although the Web provided a key battleground for gay/transgender relations, how these relationships have taken shape online is still unclear. To address this gap, this project is the first to study a web archive. Drawing on hyperlink analyses and interviews, it will provide quantitative and qualitative insights into the online ties and tensions between ‘LG’ and ‘T’ and contributes to the burgeoning field of web-historical research. 

In conclusion, then, my KB Researcher-in-Residency has been a crucial steppingstone for the prolonged project I will work on, which aims to highlight the online pasts of queer and other underrepresented individuals, the historical value of web archives, and the many opportunities that Digital Humanities and computational techniques offer for analyzing this data.  

Foto Jesper Verhoef
Jesper Verhoef
Postdoc Digitization, Media and Popular Culture, Cultural Heritage, and Creative Industries
Jesper Verhoef is a postdoc Digitization, Media and Popular Culture, Cultural Heritage, and Creative Industries at Erasmus University Rotterdam. He is an editor of TMG—Journal for Media History.