CSUF Professor is Digitally Mapping the History of Gay Spaces in AmericaHistorians in the News
tags: digital history, urban history, LGBTQ history
When Eric Gonzaba, Ph.D., assistant professor of American studies at Cal State Fullerton, was working on his dissertation on the history of gay nightlife spaces as a graduate student at George Mason University, he wasn’t finding much information. That is, until he discovered the treasure trove of Bob Damron’s “The Address Book.” The books, dating from 1964 to 2020, are a series of annual travel guides for gay travelers that list bars, stores, cinemas and other spaces that catered to queer folks.
The books are wonderfully idiosyncratic. In the early days, every site was visited personally by Damron, updated yearly and carefully labeled with various symbols indicating things such as MCC (metropolitan community church), W (western or cowboy types) and HOT (dangerous — usually fuzz).
In 2020, Gonzaba and co-collaborator Amanda Regan, Ph.D, a digital humanities postdoctoral fellow at Southern Methodist University’s Center for Presidential History, launched the Mapping the Gay Guides to plot the spots listed in the books to create a digital history of these gay spaces over time.
The two are trained in digital history methods, which use technology to look at history differently, so it was a natural next step to give the guides the digital treatment. “She (Regan) said it would be interesting if we would learn something about this, not just by reading the addresses in this guide but actually seeing them mapped out. Maybe we can learn something about it if we can filter this data,” Gonzaba said.
Mapping the Gay Guides is still in phase one — getting the infrastructure up. The team, including a few helpful grad students, has mapped 15 years of the books and over 40,000 listings.
“Now is the fun time when we get to look at the data closely and play with it,” said Gonzaba, enthusiastically, as is his way.
The goals for the project, depending on how funding goes, are to upload data from the rest of the books, then expand upon the entries. “We want to add more context and make it more of a community archival space so people can engage on a more multi-dimensional level,” Gonzaba said. He hopes to add capabilities for people to upload photos and share memories.
One of big takeaways so far has been the sheer number of spaces they’ve mapped, not just in well-known, gay-friendly (or at least friendlier) urban spots such as San Francisco, but places throughout the Deep South, the Great Plains and the Midwest, including a Waffle House in Gonzaba’s home state of Indiana. “It really speaks to how much gay culture there is outside of these kinds of coastal gay meccas,” he said.
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