After nearly two years of meticulous work, the GLBT Historical Society is pleased to announce that the Visions and Voices of GLBT History project has been officially completed! Funded by a grant from the National Historic Publications & Records Commission (NHPRC), Visions and Voices has been a major project to survey, process, and make publicly available previously hidden photographic and audiovisual (av) collections in our archives.
The goals of the project were ambitious, but the project team pulled it off with flying (rainbow!) colors. By the end of the nearly two-year project, the team surpassed the goal of surveying 200 linear feet (LF) of archival materials, having surveyed a total of 257.35 LF and partially surveyed about 69.2 LF. In addition, the project team surpassed the processing goal of 150 LF, having processed 177.18 LF as well as posted and updated 134 collection catalog records out of a goal of 100. The project has also added approximately 28 new Describing Archives: A Content Standard (DACS) compliant records to the GLBT Historical Society website (DACS is a descriptive standard for archival collections), as well as 28 catalog records and finding aids to the Online Archive of California, a website resource to archival collections across the state. Finally, the project team created a digitization priority list for each of the collections surveyed and/or processed during this project.
These goals could not have been reached were it not for the help of numerous supporters: archivists Marjorie Bryer and Juliet Demeter laid a strong foundation for the project in its first year, setting the standards for the remainder of project, while former directors Paul Boneberg and Daryl Carr managed the details of the grant contract. Current Executive Director Terry Beswick and Deputy Director/Bookkeeper Daniel Bao oversaw the final stages and completion of the project. The GLBT Historical Society also wishes to thank the numerous volunteers who contributed to the progress of this grant project throughout its two-year duration. Thank you to this wonderful team; Visions and Voices could not have been completed without you.
In reflecting on the progress and results of Visions and Voices, what stood out most is the extraordinary diversity of LGBTQ communities. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the variety of photographic and av materials housed here at the archives. Earlier this month, I had the opportunity to speak in front of a large audience at the Society of American Archivists Annual General Meeting. In talking about my experiences working on Visions and Voices, I articulated the ways this project highlights the wide range of subjects covered by our collections, including materials relating to eroticism and sexual orientation; gender identity and expression; and radical activism. The project is noteworthy for illustrating the value of including all stories and experiences within the historical record, even those deemed controversial by mainstream society.
One of the first collections I worked with, the Gene Weber slides, photographs, and artifacts (#1993-22), for example, documents the life of a prominent gay investment banker living in San Francisco throughout the 1970s and 80s. According to my research, which included testimony from people who knew him or followed his career, Weber had three main interests that appear throughout his collection: photography, travel, and bondage and sadomasochism (BDSM, S/M). Within the Weber collection, there is extensive visual documentation of one of Weber’s most well-known photo series—scuba divers fisting in the Caribbean—as well as numerous photographs of a BDSM dungeon later published in Drummer magazine. On the surface, these images are unusual and, to some, shocking or controversial, but they are nevertheless significant historical sources. The fisting slides remain quite famous in the S/M scene, and the published dungeon photos helped popularize BDSM culture to a wider audience via print documentation. In conjunction with Weber’s other photographs (mostly artful travel scenes from his numerous trips around the world), this collection not only represents the complexities found within the broader Vision and Voices project but reveals the range of experiences, cultures, and interests within LGBTQ communities.
In working with Weber’s and other photographic and av collections included in Visions and Voices, I rooted my archival decisions in the pursuit of creating a more inclusive historical record while being mindful of the diversity of LGBTQ communities. One of Vision and Voices’ main objectives was to bring to light collections that contribute to documenting and preserving the stories, activities, and experiences of the queer past. Without the generous support of this NHPRC grant, these stories would still be inaccessible and stashed away indefinitely in the quiet depths of the archives. The GLBT Historical Society is tremendously grateful for the opportunities that NHPRC has provided to its archives, which will contribute to the preservation of our history and further LGBTQ scholarship for generations to come.