One of the GLBT Historical Society’s key goals is to facilitate student access to LGBTQ history. We do this through a multipronged approach, overseeing opportunities for student engagement both at the museum and at the archives. Since the opening of the GLBT Historical Society Museum in 2011, we have offered docent-led tours to students at all levels. Of the nearly 80 museum tours we conducted in 2018, over half were provided to student groups.
Personalizing the Historical
For many students, the museum is their first exposure to queer history. Others have heard of well-known figures such as Harvey Milk, but are amazed by the range of the exhibits and time periods covered. The tours inevitably inspire intelligent questions and debates, leaving students curious to learn more. The historical becomes personalized: “I had no idea all this existed,” is a common refrain that we’ve overhead as students are on their way out of the museum. The archives also welcomes student tours several times a quarter, often organized by college professors who teach queer theory, history or library-science courses. In addition, every few months the archives hosts specially designed volunteer days for college student groups participating in alternative spring break community-service activities or student leadership programs.
Most groups undertake item-level, archival processing work that fleshes out our collection finding aids. In March, for example, we welcomed a group of Willamette University students who inventoried over 500 T-shirts in our extensive T-shirt collection. And this past month, a group of LGBTQ teens finished their two-week Outward Bound program by inventorying approximately 100 banners in our banner collection. Finally, we regularly offer internships to undergraduate and graduate students in library science, museum studies and related fields. Depending on their interests and experience, interns focus on archival work, including processing; curatorial activities; museum operations; or a combination of the three. Designed to provide hands-on job training and mentorship, these positions usually last for a quarter or a semester. The number of requests for student tours, inquiries into group service projects and applications for internships indicates that there’s a real hunger among young people for knowledge about queer history — and we’ll continue to respond through our student outreach initiatives.
Kelsi Evans is director of archives and special collections at the GLBT Historical Society. Nalini Elias is the society’s curator of exhibitions.