LGBTQ Oral History Past and Present

AHA Session 176
Committee on Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender History 9
Saturday, January 5, 2019: 10:30 AM-12:00 PM
Boulevard C (Hilton Chicago, Second Floor)
Stephen Vider, Bryn Mawr College
Nan Alamilla Boyd, San Francisco State University
Abram J. Lewis, Jeanne Vaccaro, Grinnell College, University of California, Davis
Gregory Rosenthal, Roanoke College
Jessica Wilkerson, University of Mississippi
Elspeth H. Brown, University of Toronto

Session Abstract

In the last seven years, academic and community scholars have launched a wide range of LGBTQ oral history projects, to record and preserve voices and stories of LGBTQ community, culture, and politics--particularly those histories that have been under-acknowledged and understudied in the past. These initiatives include projects dedicated to transgender histories, including the NYC Trans Oral History Project, the Transgender Oral History Project in Chicago and Philadelphia, and the Tretter Transgender Oral History Project based at University of Minnesota; projects focused on Southern queer histories, such as the Southwest Virginia LGBTQ Oral History Project; and many others such as the Queer Newark Oral History Project, the ACT UP/San Francisco Oral History Project, and Outspoken: Oral History from LGBTQ Pioneers. These projects mark a striking revival of oral history as a central strategy of LGBTQ public history, recalling early projects such as the oral history project of the San Francisco GLBT History Society and the ACT UP Oral History Project, as well as pioneering work in LGBTQ history by scholars including Allan Bérubé and Elizabeth Lapovsky Kennedy and Madeline Davis.

This roundtable reflects on the significance, potential, and challenges of past and present LGBTQ oral history projects. In particular, the roundtable will consider the following questions: (1) How did early community-based projects, such as the SF GLBT Historical Society, come to support and prioritize oral histories as part of their broader mission and work? (2) What are the challenges/pleasures of working on community oral histories projects, particularly in collaboration with other scholars, community members, and students? (3) How can we historicize oral history projects, past and present, as reflecting (or interrogating) broader LGBTQ activism, politics, and social life? And how were such projects received by people in the community and the academy? (4) What has been the afterlife of earlier oral history projects--many of which are now digitized and archived? And (5) how do LGBTQ oral histories of the past provide a model for oral histories today and in the future, with LGBTQ communities as well as other historically marginalized groups? Speakers will address these questions by reflecting on their own work as leaders of LGBTQ oral history projects.

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