Pride Month in the University of Melbourne Archives
This Pride Month, the University of Melbourne Archives is showcasing some of its personal archives of our gay and lesbian creators.
UMA is proud to be home to the Victorian Women’s Liberation and Lesbian Feminist Archives and to support continued community involvement with this collection. This archive began as a community archive of women involved in the women’s liberation and lesbian feminist movements, including some papers of the earliest organisations, campaigns and events. We also hold collections from the University of Melbourne Student records which documents the early gay liberation movement, and some individual activists. Much of these documents are described in the Homosexuality and the University of Melbourne subject guide.
These collections document the important and inspiring movements for LGBTIQ+ rights and liberation and it is so rewarding that they are well-used by researchers. But this month we would like to showcase the more personal aspect of Pride Month in the Archive – a celebration of love in all its colours and an acknowledgement of the barriers that some have had to overcome.
Queer personal archives also hold some particular challenges to researchers and archivists. There is something deeply personal and intimate about the need to know and understand archives when it comes to the records of sex and sexuality – the desire to find yourself or people similar to you in the past, represented in the authority of the preserved record. It is important for LGTBIQ+ people to know that other LGBTIQ+ people existed in the past if for no other reason than the refutation of the offensive argument that this is all some sort of post-modern fad.
But the creation of archives is a social process that reflects broader unequal power structures. Marginalised people – by class, race, sexuality or gender – are far less likely to be represented in the collections. And where they are recorded it is often in ways that reinforce their marginalised status.
Historians have attempted to fill this gap or misrepresentation by reading against the grain – uncovering hidden meaning in records, or by using existing records (such as police files) in creative ways.
Archivists have a responsibility to ensure that records relating to LGBTIQ+ people (and other marginalised groups) are organised, described and accessed in appropriate ways. Determining what is appropriate means taking into account our affective responsibility to the record creators, subjects, donors, community, institution and researchers. The interests of these different groups may clash at times, and the conflict is not always able to be resolved. But an important first step is to celebrate the important collections we hold and acknowledge the incredible humanity contained within archives. All their ambiguities, contradictions, and moments of tenderness are as human as the people who created them.