Early Ace History for Amateur Historians: Finding Primary Sources

ETA: So, it turns out that Tristifere beat me to this and already posted some great tips for Ace historians, many with more detail than I provide here. Check out their post here!

This is a post for the July 2015 Carnival of Aces, on the theme “Asexual History”

This piece is specifically concerned with the period of “early asexual history”, which I consider roughly anything before 2004. There reason I focus on this period in particular is because 1. It’s one of my personal areas of historical interest; 2. The smaller size of the community at that point makes it a more manageable introduction to ace history; 3. It’s the formative period for many of the ideas that we see in the ace community; and 4. It’s one of the periods that’s hard to find out about than some more recent history.

This is also not meant for actual historians – it’s more for amateurs like me with an interest in poking around and learning more about early ace history, so I’m not getting into theories of historiography or anything like that. Instead, it’s all about how to find primary sources to read and learn more from. It’s pretty loosely structured, so let’s jump right into it:

1. Check out existing collections and guides.  While existing ace historical archives are unfortunately pretty sparse, there are a some out there – things like AsexualExploration’s Bibliography (which includes some early works) and the AVENwiki media lists (which has links to many early newspaper articles that have already been dug up, from ) or the Asexual Zine Archive (more recent). Another tool is looking at links from other posts in this carnival (like my other post), or searching for terms like “asexual history” in the AVEN forums – there are some threads already where people have dug up some pretty cool stuff.

2. Check out existing asexual community websites’ archives. Many online asexuals communities still have records available from the moment they were founded. For example, you can view AVEN posts all the way back to when the forums were first added (minus any threads that have been lost to deletion/hacks/server problems). Many other communities like the Asexuality Livejournal also have most of their old posts online. You can also read the entire archives for the Haven for the Human Amoeba (arguably the first asexual community) as well, which is super interesting.

While most of these communities are now far too busy for anyone to keep track of their activity, many started with only a small handful, making it easy to read through the first few months of activity in a few days, giving you a really intimate glimpse of early asexual communities. I highly recommend reading through some of the early AVEN, HHA, and Livejournal days for anyone interested in early asexual communities.

2. Use Archive.org’s Wayback Machine. Seriously, the Internet Archive’s wayback machine is the #1 most useful tool for any internet historian. Basically, the wayback machine is the archived results from years of web crawlers that gathered snapshots of most publicly accessible pages on the internet.

This is the easiest way to access asexuality pages that no longer exist, from well known pieces like My Life as an Amoeba or lesser known sites like TNGirlTech’s Asexualism Page. You can also use it to view older versions of current websites, like past iterations of the AVEN home page.

While the archive may only have one snapshot every year or so for smaller and obscurer sites, it can still be a great insight.

3. Snowball through your sources’ sources. Of course, the tools above are only good for viewing pieces you already knew existed. What about the ones you don’t already know of? One of the best ways to find other early ace communities or websites is by trolling through links pages, posted links, and webrings that you find on the few existing communities that you do know. And everytime you find a new website, check all of it’s links, and so on and so forth. That can be a great way to dig up lesser known items, like this ambiguously sarcastic (or not?) page or this research on asexuality for a Toronto newspaper from the late 90’s.

One of the best ways to start getting to know early ace communities is to begin with the HHA archives and the “My Life as an Amoeba” comments section – many people in each of those are aggregating links much the way we do now, which makes it a good collection of sources to start from.

4. Talk to people! One of the other great things about the ace community being relatively young is that most of the major figures in ace history are still alive! It may take a bit of work to hunt down people who may not be very active in the community any longer, and the people behind some pseudonyms just won’t be findable, but there are still tons of early ace community members still hanging around – think SwankIvy, David Jay, Nat Titman, etc. Interviewing people who were around in these early communities, whether as Big Name Asexuals or just anonymous lurkers, is a great way to get more information on what things were like. Interviews can also get you personal  insights into things that aren’t in the public record, whether it’s about things that went down in private, or personal feelings or perspectives that can’t be determined from reading old posts alone.

5. Wanna go even further back? Try newspaper archives! These are very useful when you want to try and look into “pre-internet” asexuality. Many newspaper archives are increasingly being digitized, allowing you to simply search for words like “asexual” or “asexuality” or “nonsexual” or “autoerotic” or whatever your term of choice is. Google has a public newspaper database, and academic institutions and libraries may have access to other databases like ProQuest Historical Newspapers, and some individual papers may have their own archives hosted online.

6. Search academic and library databases, and academic texts. Another way to potentially find things is by brute force searching terms like “asexual” in any databases you have access to – whether it’s LGBT archives, general library catalogs, old journal databases, or anything else.

Just searching “asexual” may mean wading through a lot of biology papers before you find anything relevent, so one tip is to search for “asexuality” (slightly less common in biological texts) or for combinations like “asexual orientation” or “asexual”, “homosexual”, and “bisexual” or “asexuals are”.

If you have ebook or digital versions of various sexological works, you can also search digitally for the word “asexual”, and many may have brief references even as early as the 50s and 60s (or even the 20s!). You can also use the old fashioned method of checking the indexes in paper books, or scanning chapter titles (focusing especially on anything about celibacy, frigidness, dysfunction, etc, which are likely sources for mentions in early works).

Anyway, those are just a few ideas to start, but that should be enough to keep an eager ace sleuth up for months – I’ve had fun digging for years using these techniques and starting points. As always, feel free to ask if you want help finding anything re: ace history.

And, to close, I’d like to issue a challenge to any followers who might be interested: take a few minutes (or hours, or days, or however long you like) to try some of the tools above, and post a cool fact or link you’ve found in the comments below – there’s tons of cool stuff out there, and I’d love to see what everyone else’s favorites are! And who knows, you may even find something no one else even knew existed!


About Sennkestra

I'm an aro ace and a bit of an [a]sexuality nerd; an officer worker by day and an ace community organizer and activist by night. When I'm not reading stuff on the internet I like to cook fancy food, watch anime, and make arts and crafts projects.
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4 Responses to Early Ace History for Amateur Historians: Finding Primary Sources

  1. Tristifere says:

    oh hey, great minds think alike! Your post is a really good guide, and touches on some of the topics which I had to exclude in mine. I decided to only focus on tools and tricks for digging through old websites, but clearly that’s not the only type of source available to the amateur ace historian. Will link to your guide as well in my post, as these can clearly complement eachother.

    Also, I love love love that you shared the list of old pre-2004 asexuality links. There’s quite some stuff I wasn’t familiar with.

    Can I ask, why this period you call “early ace history” ends in 2004? I’m unclear as to why the cut-off point is 2004.

    • Sennkestra says:

      2004 is the year that Bogaert published his famous 1% paper, which kicked off articles from CNN and the New Scientist about asexuality and AVEN, which kicked off even more media coverage which kind of never stopped. It also started the era of research on asexual-identified communities (as opposed to previous research that was more on hypothetical asexuality).

      Basically, I see it as the moment when asexuality went “mainstream”, so to speak, and also in some ways when AVEN officially became cemented as the “face” of the asexual community.

      There are of course other turning points later in ace history, but I still see this as one of the big shifts.

    • Sennkestra says:

      That’s a good question though so I should edit that in.

  2. Pingback: Carnival of Aces July 2015 Wrap-up: Asexual History | Next Step: Cake

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