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Historians are now trying to show that the gay revolution also took place in the midwest

Historians in the News
tags: LGBT, gay revolution



This post originally appeared on the OUP blog.

With the summer issue of the Oral History Review just around the corner, we are bringing you a sneak peak of what’s to come. Issue 43.1 is our LGBTQ special issue, featuring oral history projects and stories from around the country. To dig more into the issue, we sat down with Scott Seyforth and Nichole Barnes to talk about their article, “‘In People’s Faces for Lesbian and Gay Rights’: Stories of Activism in Madison, Wisconsin, 1970 to 1990.” Drawing from the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s LGBTQ oral history archive, their article offers a rethinking of the common stories we tell about the trajectory of LGBTQ rights and activism, showcasing the important role of university towns and the Midwest in shaping queer history. 

The archive contains over 200 hours of oral history interviews. In sitting down to actually write the article, how did you decide where to start?

Well, one thing that we really wanted to address is that a lot of the history of queer liberation hasn’t been told, especially in the Midwest. The queer liberation mass-movement happens everywhere, not just on the coasts. But from reading the history books, you’d think queer Midwesterners weren’t doing much. The article addresses some of these gaps, showing how queer politics evolved in Madison, from very early in the days of queer liberation. Drawing on the interviews we have done with many of the participants in this history, we’re able to let them speak back to history and highlight their accomplishments.

Another big thing we really wanted to do with the article was to highlight the varied holdings of the university that go so far beyond just institutional records. Many people would never expect the university archives to have such a broad collecting scope so we wanted to let people know that there’s more here for those who want to come and explore it. Really, in the article, you’re just getting a glimpse of what the archive has collected so far.

A big part of that problem goes straight back to the way that queer history is remembered. You would assume that New York or San Francisco would have great queer collections – and they certainly do – but there’s history here in the Midwest. Queer culture doesn’t come solely out of the coastal cities, but also from places like Madison, where people are making really interesting change in their communities. During the same time period as this article, the early 1970s, other Midwestern cities with university populations are producing really interesting change. Places like Champaign/Urbana, Ann Arbor, and the West Bank of the University of Minnesota await study, to name just a few. ...

Read entire article at OUP Blog


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