Jesper Verhoef is the new ‘Researcher-in-Residence’ at the KB with research on LGBTQI+ websites
The National Library (KB) in The Hague has selected historian and media scholar Jesper Verhoef as KB Researcher-in-Residence 2023. For six months, he will research the crucial role the web plays in the lives of LGBTQI+ communities. He will dive into the unique collection of hundreds of LGBTQI+ websites archived by the KB in recent years.
Mapping the Dutch Queer Web Sphere
A committee of six Digital Humanities experts affiliated with different universities, chose Verhoef based on his application Mapping the Dutch Queer Web Sphere. Central to this research are the questions: what did the Dutch queer web sphere look like and what changes has it undergone? And which websites, organisations and people formed the network and what are the relationships between them?
Verhoef's project sheds light on and contributes to the (fight for) emancipation of queers, a group often invisible in historical work. This is of great importance, according to Verhoef. “The Dutch claim to be tolerant towards LGBTQI+ communities, but research shows that there is much ground to be gained in practice. As COC rightly states, visibility – in historical research, too – is crucial to improve this.”
Unique web collection
“For decades, the internet has occupied an important place in our lives. Consequently, historical research into that period should use websites as sources,” Verhoef believes, “even when they are no longer online.” The latter is possible when websites are archived, which in the Netherlands is done by the KB.
The KB has been archiving some websites that Verhoef will study, such as coc.nl, since 2008. Most others, such as gayfarmers.nl and translifestyle.nl, have been crawled since 2018.
Due to copyright restrictions, the web collection can only be consulted within the KB walls, making it barely used. A real pity, Verhoef feels. “As a result, an essential part of our recent history has been neglected. This is particularly problematic for the history of minorities such as LGBTQI+ communities. Among other things, the internet provides them with information, support and the chance to have their voices heard.”
A vital part of our recent history has been underexposed. This is particularly problematic for minorities such as LGBTQI+ communities.
Pioneering Digital Humanities research
Methodically, Verhoef’s project is equally groundbreaking. Working with collection and data specialists and a software engineer of the KB, he will use Digital Humanities techniques, such as hyperlink analysis and Named Entity Recognition, to answer his research questions.
As research on archived websites is still in its early stages, Verhoef aims to show hands-on how such computational methods can be applied to this kind of rich but complex data. This should stimulate future research on this and other web collections.