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GLQ: A Journal of Lesbian and Gay Studies 7.1 (2001) 153-181
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The GLQ Archive
From Storage Box to Computer Screen:
Disclosing Artifacts of Queer History in Michigan
Commenting on the explosion of U.S. lesbian and gay history in the fifteen years since his pioneering Sexual Politics, Sexual Communities first appeared, the historian John D'Emilio writes, "At least for the twentieth century, historians are creating a multilayered, many-voiced account of a collective gay and lesbian life as complex and subtle as those we already have for ethnic and racial groups in the United States." 1 Indeed, new accounts of this collective life are increasingly frequent, building on classic texts like Allan Bérubé's Coming Out under Fire and Lillian Faderman's Odd Girls and Twilight Lovers as well as on groundbreaking studies by Esther Newton, George Chauncey, and Elizabeth Lapovsky Kennedy and Madeline D. Davis. 2
A second generation, following these authors' lead into research about America's queer past, is closely inspecting specific locales, with such recent examples as Daneel Buring's study of Memphis, John Howard's book about Mississippi, Marc Stein's work on Philadelphia, and Nan Alamilla Boyd's upcoming treatment of San Francisco. These more academic investigations, all based on dissertations, have been joined in the historical dialogue by independent and community-based projects in places like Seattle, San Francisco (again), and Boston. 3 Each new study, inside and outside the academy, augments with greater detail our understanding of how sexual behaviors and identities operated and evolved in different locales during the twentieth century. [End Page 153]
Constructing an LGBT Exhibit
Taking this regional exploration to the Midwest is the historical exhibition "Artifacts and Disclosures: Michigan's Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Heritage," first staged as a physical display in the main lobby of the University of Michigan's Harlan Hatcher Graduate Library during the summer of 1999 and now available as an on-line exhibition (www.lgbtheritage.org). Inspired by the 1994 New York Public Library exhibition "Becoming Visible: The Legacy of Stonewall," the Michigan exhibition came into being as a cooperative venture between the Lavender Information and Library Association (LILA), a ten-year-old staff and student group, and the Hatcher Library's Joseph A. Labadie Collection. 4 The cocurators were Julie Herrada, associate librarian in the Labadie Collection, and myself. Our intentions were to demonstrate what historical resources have been found, what can be found, and where it can be found and to highlight the actual queer history of our Rust Belt state. We wanted to show, as well, the longtime efforts of repositories to collect and preserve that history.
Our project has been an all-volunteer undertaking, with scant funding but with dozens of people lending a hand. LILA, the Labadie Collection, and three University of Michigan cosponsors--the Bentley Historical Library, the Library Exhibits Committee, and the Library Diversity Committee--have shared the minimal costs of postage, photographic reprinting, publicity, and supplies. Aside from labor, the most valuable contribution has been space at no cost on the School of Information server, which houses the project's Web site.
Designed as a sort of giant scrapbook, the original exhibition consisted of 150 captioned images arranged chronologically in a series of six large display cases. The images were accompanied by a time line corresponding to the represented eras. Two other, narrower cases contained LGBT fiction and poetry having some Michigan connection, and an additional large case displayed local queer newspapers and magazines. A printed copy of the time line, with source citations, would be available as a handout. The physical implementation, using pushpins and Mylar to protect original items, took several marathon sessions to mount. Volunteers Scott Dennis, Kelly Webster, NTanya Lee, and Jay Katzeman helped put up the display and arranged the materials in each case, the challenge being to fit the artifacts, captions, and background triangles into the allotted space.
Our methodology was both systematic and happenstance. One criterion for selection was that...