Why Should I Contribute?
We may think “history” means only what famous and powerful people do.
In the last forty years, however, historians have paid increasing attention to the rest of us - ordinary people who are neither famous nor powerful. Partly this is the result of the various civil rights movements - African-American, women’s, LGBT - that emerged during the 1950s and 1960s.
Before those movements, there were very few African-American, women, or openly LGBT historians. When women and minorities began to insist on our own importance and our right to equal opportunity, some of us became historians. Also, historians in general found that ordinary people did not always think and act the way the famous and powerful wanted us to, and that such differences are historically important and interesting.
Carroll Smith-Rosenberg, one of the first historians of women in the United States, published a famous article in 1975 titled “The Female World of Love and Ritual.” It had a major impact on what historians choose to study and how they go about it.
She could never have written that article if ordinary women had not donated their diaries and letters to archives.
John D’Emilio, one of the first openly gay historians in the United States, published Sexual Politics, Sexual Communities: The Making of a Homosexual Minority in the United States, 1945 to 1970, in 1983. Over twenty five years later, this is still one of the most important books on the topic, and it has defined the work of many subsequent LGBT historians.
John D’Emilio had to travel all over the nation looking for documents in people’s personal papers. His job would have been much easier had those documents been in an archive. Even if historians still have to travel to multiple archives, archives by definition are designed to allow people to look at their holdings - it’s easier to do research in an archive than in someone’s living room.
In other words, your stuff is probably more important than you realize.
It’s also safer in an archive than anywhere else. You don’t have to worry about anyone spilling coffee on it. You don’t have to worry about paper yellowing and crumbling with age. You don’t have to worry about someone throwing it all away when you die.
And, not only will future historians want to look at your stuff, but the Milwaukee LGBT History Project may use it right away. We have an ongoing project to display Milwaukee’s LGBT history at PrideFest, on our web site, and anywhere else we can find.
So please contact us if you have papers, buttons, t-shirts, photographs, or anything else that documents your LGBT life and the lives of your LGBT friends in Milwaukee.
Credits: concept and format by Don Schwamb.
Last updated: October-2009.