Subjects in Chains: Linked Data Vocabularies and Sexual Liberation


This paper offers a solution to a problem that has plagued information professionals, activists and researchers for the past half century; what to do with subject headings. Subject headings, used to classify and organize books and other material, have proven to be one of the useful tools for libraries. In an academic context, Library of Congress Subject Headings cover over 130 million items in academic libraries across the United States, and even more worldwide. Subject terms describing marginalized groups have been criticized as inappropriate, misleading or outrightly offensive, but unfortunately still remain essential for users. One proposed solution offered by researchers has been the use of tagging by members of the public. These proposals, however, have been matched by a near-equal amount of research pointing out issues with tagging and uncontrolled vocabularies. A possible solution has only recently become available through the use of linked data—a cutting-edge digital technology that allows both computers and humans to understand various materials. It has heralded as the next step for the internet by Tim Berners-Lee, but the radical and subversive potential of the technology has gone largely unnoticed. First, this presentation will introduce and explain linked data, then it will offer a practical presentation of some of the current uses in digital archives. Finally, the author will discuss their current linked data project, which is an attempt to provide a historically-based controlled vocabulary for sex, sexuality, and more. This project intersects quite literally with each of IDRH’s themes; it is about nonnormative, ‘weird,’ ‘queer’ and “perverse” bodies; it is about creating a place and space of justice for those bodies; and it is about drawing on the archives and past of humanity in order to allow for possible futures for digital humanity.

Lawrence, Kanasas
linked data presentation queer archives homosaurus HomoIT
Brian M. Watson
Archivist, Historian, Knowledge Organizer

I’m an archivist, a public historian, an author, a researcher, and a knowledge organizer.