Document Type

Open Access Article

Author Biography

Kirstyn Leuner is an assistant professor of English and coordinator of the Digital Humanities Initiative at Santa Clara University.

Catherine Koehler is a continuing lecturer in the Merritt Writing Program at the University of California, Merced. She is associate chair of the Prison Writing and Pedagogy Collective Standing Group of the Conference on College Composition and Communication.

Doran Larson is Edward North Professor of Literature at Hamilton College. He is the editor of Fourth City: Essays from the Prison in America and founder of the American Prison Writing Archive. His book, Inside Knowledge: The Lessons Prisons Teach, will be published in 2023.


This article describes how undergraduate coursework performs activist bibliography for the largest and first fully searchable digital archive of testimony writing by currently incarcerated people, the American Prison Writing Archive (APWA). The authors argue that when teachers invite students to participate as citizen archivists for the APWA as coursework, through contributing crowdsourced metadata such as transcription and subject tagging, the incarcerated writers whose manuscripts they edit become the epistemological center of the course. Through this pedagogy, APWA authors create and disseminate knowledge about the emotional and physical tolls of incarceration and the need for prison abolition. The article features two case studies in undergraduate teaching assignments: (a) students performing subject tagging of APWA testimony in a literature course, and (b) students transcribing APWA manuscripts in a literacy studies course. Both engage students in activist bibliographical work and digital humanities for a public audience that increases the functionality and content in the archive, defies carceral censorship, and demystifies broad public and political misinformation about prisons and imprisoned people. By detailing two possibilities for incorporating APWA editing into literature and literacy curricula, and its potential to ideologically transform student citizen archivists, the authors hope to attract more instructors to include this editorial work in their syllabi and extend our call for critical action within and beyond the archive.

(In the issue section "Rethinking Catalogs and Archives")