Archiving and Interpreting Lesbian Communities, 1975–99
Archiving the L. Emerging as a provocative field of historical inquiry in the 1970s and continuing through current scholarship, the study of lesbian lives and cultures engages many of the best minds in new feminist scholarship. By the late 1990s, advances in Internet technology and the possibility of digitalizing extant music, photographs and documents gave independent scholars the tools to preserve entire community herstories, complementing community-based digital archives like Brooklyn’s Lesbian Herstory Archive and the June Mazer Archive in Los Angeles. The slow but welcome progression of LGBT visibility, rights and political power also ensured greater interest in and mainstream inclusion of lesbian figures in history, and the acceptance of such focus in broader academic studies on women. Furthermore, those lesbian individuals and communities associated with the activism of the 1970s began to age and to reflect more generationally on their contributions to social change. Central to such documentary inquiry is the question of how radical lesbian culture might best be articulated to future historians. In the first decade of the twenty-first century, a new generation of academic theorists shifted their lens from women’s history to queer studies, de-emphasizing overt identification with the L in LGBT. This academic restructuring dovetailed with critical interrogation of older lesbian institutions that have excluded men (and/or MTF transwomen) as participants, influencing how the legacy of woman-only spaces may be critically appraised. What remains urgent is to gather and preserve information about the creative, dynamic and visionary lesbian activists of the 1970s and 80s with all due haste. For this panel, I will share insights on my own work, offer information on viable archives and depositories, and discuss some of the many political, academic and ethical questions involved in collecting legacies of a still-threatened minority.
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