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Archival Work Unearths Hidden Passion

Note: Brendon’s work on the “Just for the Record” Collection is part of a larger project to process and digitize our video collection. This work has been generously funded by a grant from the LGBT+ Archives Project of Louisiana. ARC is working with the New Orleans Video Access Center to digitize “Just for the Record,” which ran on New Orleans cable access from 1987 to 1993 and was New Orleans’ first LGBTQ+ television program. The show covered local and national topics of interest to the gay and lesbian community. We are hopeful that the full collection will be processed and available to researchers by the end of 2019.

Over the last semester, I had the opportunity to do my service learning at the Amistad Research Center. At Tulane University, all undergraduate students are required to complete two tiers of service learning, each one at 20 hours. All of the service learning opportunities are in conjunction with a class and a community partner related to the class subject matter. For me, this class was “Sexuality in U.S. History,” taught by Dr. Red Tremmel. The Amistad Research Center was my community partner.

On my first day, I walked in excited, but mostly just there to complete my service learning hours. However, as soon as I was given a tour of the archive’s library, its climate-controlled back room and the upstairs museum, I was truly excited to have the opportunity to work with the materials. At the end of my service learning, I realize that I have discovered a passion for archival research.

During my time at Amistad, I had the opportunity to work with two different collections. The first of these was the “Just for the Record” Collection. “Just for the Record” was an LGBT cable access television show from the late 1980s and early 1990s. This collection is comprised of a video archive of old episodes and stacks of its monthly newsletter. The videos are on U-Matic videocassettes, a format no longer in use and not widely accessible. However, two of the episodes had been digitized and were viewable. One of the episodes was filmed at New Orleans Gay Fest 1989 and the other was filmed at a drag show, “Ladies of the Eighties: Live at Paw Paws.” I not only had the opportunity to watch these episodes, which alone would be an incredible opportunity, but to also work with them.

For each episode I wrote a summary of what happened, compiled a list of search terms using language from the Library of Congress website, then created a list of who’s featured in each show. In addition, I went through all of the monthly newsletters, alphabetized and scanned them. I found this project to particularly interesting because it provided a glimpse into queer culture in the late 1980s and early 1990s. The footage of Gay Fest shows how far LGBT movements today have come, and it was very interesting to see drag back then.

The other project I worked on was the Impact collection. This is a set from an LGBT newspaper called Impact. I went through two boxes that were filled with a somewhat random assortment of materials ranging from newsletters to flyers and maps, with pamphlets and photographs, too. Initially I went through the boxes to figure out what was there, then I made a list of the types of materials enclosed. Next, we discussed the best way to organize the materials. It was eventually decided that each specific organization should have that honor. So my next task was sorting each box and cataloging all materials into folders based on which organization they originated from. This was interesting because the groups covered a wide berth. Log Cabin Republicans, The New Orleans Lesbian Avengers, the Gay & Lesbian Association Against Censorship, The Human Rights Campaign, The Gay and Lesbian Victory Fund, NO/AIDS and many others are represented.

After I had sorted most of the larger organizations, I organized the materials by date. Then, I alphabetized and labeled them for archival. This was very exciting because it allowed me to see what was actually going on during the gay liberation movement. I also learned, up close and personally, how to put together a collection. It is one thing to read about a movement, but quite another to actually spread the physical remnants of a movement in front of you.

Through my service learning I learned all about what goes on behind the scenes in archives. I have always had a fascination with old things and history, but I had only seen collections after they were neatly assembled. Looking through the unpacked materials, I was thrilled to see it all and so glad we were organizing this bounty to share with others.

Being on the inside and seeing how collections come together, how they are organized and all the work necessary is very interesting. This experience helped me realize how easily things can be forgotten and even erased from history. My service learning afforded me the chance to protect and preserve the history of gay people, which is truly invaluable. I didn’t really know what archival research consists of before entering the Amistad Research Center, but now I cannot wait to work in an archive again.

Images from Amistad’s website, newsletters, and blogs cannot be reproduced without permission.

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