This week, visitors to the University of Houston MD Anderson Library will notice a suite of banners in the atrium and floors 2 and 3. The Banner Project, created by Houston activists Sara Fernandez, JD Doyle, and Kirk Baxter, is a pop-up exhibit featuring pivotal moments in Houston’s LGBT history from the 1930s to present day.
2023 marks the seventh year that UH Libraries has partnered with the creators to host the banners, sparking discussion, reflection, and engagement with the LGBT History Research Collection. The banners will remain on display through October in honor of LGBT History Month and American Archives Month. While The Banner Project comprises 50 banners highlighting individuals, organizations, and events in Houston’s LGBTQ community history, 26 were selected for the pop-up exhibit.
Many archives and publications preserved in UH Libraries Special Collections serve as primary sources for the subjects of the banners and the teaching, learning, research, and programming they inspire. UH collections represented in the banners include Royal Dixon and Chester Snowden, The Diana Foundation, This Week In Texas magazine, former Harris County comptroller Gary Van Ooteghem and the Log Cabin Republicans, Town Meeting I, Lesbians Over Age Fifty (LOAF), Houston mayor Annise Parker, and others.
In 2027, University of Houston will celebrate its centennial. As this auspicious milestone nears, students, alumni, faculty, staff, and supporters are working together to honor the University’s rich history as a mission-driven institution shaped by forward-thinking stakeholders. An exhibit at MD Anderson Library, opening in September 2023, will feature pivotal points from 100 years of distinction.
Agents of Change: Celebrating Innovation at the UH Centennial is part of a three-year storytelling collaboration between UH Center for Public History, UH Libraries, and Houston Public Media. The 100 Years of Stories project was made possible through a gift from Carey C. Shuart, a Houstonian and supporter of art, education, and women’s causes throughout the region.
The exhibit is the culmination of a partnership aiming to engage UH students in collecting, sharing, and preserving notable narratives of UH and its people.
In 1927, Houstonians were eager for higher education that fit the lifestyle of working adults and served the needs of a growing city. Emboldened by a spirit of innovation, students, faculty, and members of the community shaped University of Houston into the trailblazing institution it is today. Over almost 100 years, these agents of change have led UH on its journey from a junior college to a major, urban research university. Along the way, they expanded access to higher education and increased diversity, brought innovative approaches to learning, and created an institution that has had a strong impact on both local and global communities.
Jesus Sanchez, a graduate student in history, was one of the scholars to work on the 100 Years project which included exhibit planning and design, archival research and selection, and metadata writing. In organizing and cataloging historical documents, photos, and artifacts that connected with Agents of Change, Sanchez discovered prevailing themes in the primary source materials.
“University of Houston is a college for the people of Houston, regardless of race, gender, wealth, or religion,” Sanchez noted. “I saw how students impacted UH, and how they became influential figures, like Maria Jimenez, who worked tirelessly to help vulnerable communities decades after her years as an activist at UH during the 1970s.”
The project gave Sanchez, who wants to become a historian, practical insights. “I had no experience, and learning more about the field and seeking guidance from experts in archival work was very helpful,” he said.
Cady Hammer also worked on the project as a student curator during her first semester at UH.
“I was excited when I got the syllabus and saw that we would be formulating the concept and major elements of the 100 Years of Stories exhibit,” Hammer said. “This was the first direct interaction I had with exhibit development, which is something I would love to do in my career.”
The overarching concept that guided the exhibit, the “big idea,” was categorized into three UH eras: its founding, expansion, and contemporary community impact.
“My classmates and I found that this concept worked best for incorporating key stories that the Center for Public History wanted to represent in the exhibit,” Hammer noted. Class members selected items that would fit with the focus of each era and wrote descriptions. The impact of activism and advocacy at UH was a significant theme that emerged from the archives. “So many of the biggest changes at UH were student-driven,” Hammer said. These improvements “signified the power of young people banding together to accomplish an important goal.”
Archives curation offers interesting contextual lines of inquiry. Hammer offers this advice to other students: “Learn how to read between the lines. No matter what you’re researching, there are at least two stories to every document. The first one is the story on the page. You can pull facts, people, and events from it easily. The second is the story hidden in the details of the document and how they connect to other materials. Some of the most important points of a document are the voices that have been left out of the narrative.”
Alec Story noted that talking to librarians and archivists who curate the collections at UH Special Collections is a good first step when working with primary source materials. “Going into your research with a strong line of inquiry and a curious mind will help uncover truly incredible documents,” he said. “As we worked on this project it became clear that University of Houston has an unpretentious and humble legacy. UH challenges the notion of what a university is supposed to look like.”
Agents of Change will be on display at MD Anderson Library from September 2023 through May 2024. The opening will accompany the launch of the fall 2023 issue of Houston History, published by the Center for Public History. The exhibit is being produced collaboratively between UH Libraries Special Collections, UH Libraries Preservation and Reformatting, and UH Center for Public History.
Preserving Houston’s LGBTQ Broadcast History: The Gulf Coast LGBT Radio and Television Digitization Project
The following post was contributed by Bethany Scott, head of Preservation and Reformatting, and Emily Vinson, preservation coordinator.
In 2020, the Gulf Coast LGBT Radio and Television Digitization Project was launched with the support of the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) Humanities Collections and Reference Resources Program. The project’s mission is to digitize, preserve, and grant access to thousands of hours of Houston’s LGBTQ broadcast history, including recordings that had not been publicly available since their initial broadcast.
Thanks to community partnerships, this project has successfully digitized all materials included in the grant, resulting in over 3,500 unique digital files. Among these files are the long-running radio program After Hours, episodes of radio series Wilde ‘n’ Stein and Lesbian & Gay Voices, among other radio programs, and 48 episodes of TV Montrose, a cable newsmagazine documenting life in Houston’s Montrose neighborhood from 1998-1999.
We are excited to announce that all episodes of TV Montrose have been published in the UH Libraries Audio/Video Repository. Within these episodes, researchers will find bygone sites of Montrose, interviews with local political figures such as Mayor Lee P. Brown, Representative Sheila Jackson Lee, then-city councilperson Annise Parker, and information about local arts, health, and social events that affected the LGBTQ community.
Additionally, several years of After Hours are now available on the AV Repository, with more to come. Styled as a late-night “queer variety show,” After Hours features “music, news, chat, risqué antics, gossip, and above all, activism.” The show’s content varies from interviews with LGBTQ musicians to coverage of the March on Washington and frank discussions around gender and identity.
To ensure equitable access to these materials and promote the use of the collection, all digitized materials have been transcribed, with searchable PDFs available through the AV Repository platform. Moving forward, the project team will continue to work on transcription and descriptive work, and they plan to create an online exhibit to contextualize and highlight these historically significant materials.
The Gulf Coast LGBT Radio and Television Digitization Project is an important resource for preserving and sharing the history of Houston’s LGBTQ community. With its extensive collection of digitized materials, the project offers a unique opportunity to learn about the experiences and contributions of LGBTQ individuals and communities in Houston. We encourage everyone to explore the digitized materials and learn more about this important part of Houston’s history.
The following is a guest post contributed by Nine Abad (they/them/their), who is pursuing a double major in Political Science and Women’s and Gender Studies. Abad processed the Marilyn Kay Patterson National Women’s Conference Collection as part of their capstone. Their take on students working with primary source materials: “Special Collections holds a fascinating inventory of various primary sources. I find that they are more revealing and interesting than secondary sources re-explaining and inserting their own analysis. While secondary sources can be helpful, it is uniquely valuable and important to discover your own perception and analysis of the primary source.”
At 28 years old, Marilyn Kay Patterson was among the waves of feminists fighting for equal rights and actionable policies that address issues such as abortion and reproductive freedom, sexual orientation and LGBTQ+ rights, disability, and race. In 1977, a slew of state conferences culminated into a National Women’s Conference held in Houston, where about 2,000 delegates from across the nation, in addition to 15,000 to 20,000 attendees, deliberated over a plan of action to present to Congress. Marilyn Kay Patterson was one of these delegates, representing New Hampshire and her stance on robust mental health policies. University of Houston Libraries Special Collections recently received a donation of her documents regarding the New Hampshire State Women’s Conference and the National Women’s Conference, including her speeches and proposals, newspapers covering the events of the conference, name badges, flyers, and a poster signed by members of the New Hampshire delegation to be housed in the Carey Shuart Women’s Research Collection.
The Marilyn Kay Patterson National Women’s Conference Collection includes booklets of information and plan-of-action drafts with Patterson’s notes, providing insight as to how she and other delegates may have looked at the policies proposed. In the margins of the proposals, she compares which national planks are similar to the New Hampshire proposals, jots down issues that were not addressed, and takes notes of speakers and procedures.
While there was a general sense of unity within the National Women’s Conference, there were still some internal tensions. Patterson and the New Hampshire delegation attempted to present a proposal regarding the mental health of women at the Houston National Women’s Conference, but they were unable to get to the microphone to present their proposal within the allotted time. Despite not being able to reach the stage, notes on the margins of the proposal asked delegates to pass the proposal around during the conference in hopes they would get more people to support the addition of such policies. After the conference, Patterson wrote letters to notable figures such as Gloria Steinem that important issues such as mental health were absent in conversation at the national stage.
Patterson went on to deliver speeches to local women’s organizations after the conference ended. In these speeches, she mentions critiques of the conference, including the lack of coverage of advocacies important to her. However, she notably crosses them out, instead focusing on informing women of the unity and progress that was displayed at the conference.
The Sharing Stories from 1977 project works to preserve the stories of participants like Marilyn Kay Patterson, who donated the collection materials and provided an oral history during her visit to Houston in 2022.
The Marilyn Kay Patterson collection hosts these speeches, proposals, and letters as well as photographs, flyers, a cassette tape, and newspapers covering the National Women’s Conference. Those interested in more information on the Marilyn Kay Patterson National Women’s Conference Collection and other National Women’s Conference collections are encouraged to visit Special Collections.
Theatre students visited University of Houston Libraries Special Collections to access the archives and take part in a reimagined way of learning.
Elizabeth Coen, PhD, assistant professor and head of the MA in Theatre Studies at the UH School of Theatre and Dance, collaborated with Madelyn Washington, head of the Music Library, and Mary Manning, university archivist, to plan a co-curricular experience for 29 students that involved an assessment of playbills and marketing materials from theatre productions of the mid-to-late 20th century, with the goal of developing a list of plays that would be read collectively by the class.
Based on a recommendation by Andrew Davis, PhD, dean of the Kathrine G. McGovern College of the Arts, Coen read The New Education (2017) by Cathy Davidson, and was inspired to craft a different kind of learning experience for the undergrads in her course, THEA 2344 American Drama, one that encourages creativity and empowerment.
“I began mulling the idea of having the students design the reading list,” Coen said. “My thought was to have them in the library researching and reading plays the first weeks of classes so that they could contemplate what constitutes the genre of American Drama – whose voices have been privileged through the stage and whose voices have been left out of the historical record. These questions address some of the most pressing issues in the theatre industry right now.”
Manning connected the students with primary source materials drawn from the Performing and Visual Arts Research Collection, followed by a session with Washington to learn how to boost their research with secondary sources, such as production reviews and related scholarly articles.
“My scholarship and teaching are informed by community collaborations and I really wanted the students to see what could be accomplished when experts across disciplines work together toward a common goal,” Coen said. “Mary Manning and Madelyn Washington opened up new possibilities for inquiry and thinking, which has enriched our conversations about American drama in the traditional classroom.”
It was playwriting/dramaturgy major Rachel Coleman’s first experience working with primary source materials, an exploration that showed the significance of document preservation on revealing culture and values of the past, and for stewarding the human perspective so often hidden in the historical record. “I think it’s easy, as a young creative, to feel like the only artist in the world, but these papers showed thousands of artists who also wanted to change, create, and evoke,” Coleman said. “These are not just records but memories, all of which took time, effort, and love. For many of these productions, the collections are the only evidence of that care.”
In examining the materials, Coleman sensed the mostly missing voices of women, people of color, and the LGBTQ community in theatre of the time, not because of lack of individuals in the space, but from concerted attempts to mute them. “These identities have always existed, and as long as theater has existed alongside them, these people have been telling stories,” Coleman noted. “While several other themes stuck out in my research, such as many shows being adaptations, this silence was the most deafening.” This insight supports the need, in the study of American drama, to examine what wasn’t being produced as much as what was.
Countless discoveries of the serendipitous kind are waiting to be found in the archives. “We would have never been able to unpack this necessary work without the time spent in Special Collections,” Coleman said. “Primary documents are wonderful paths for original thought, filtered through no other narrator but time itself.”
Representation in the historical record is crucial, as Jessica García, a first-year student of stage management, found through her work with a group assigned to research the Dr. Nicolás Kanellos Hispanic Theatre Collection.
For García, the opportunity to examine the manuscripts, printed materials, photographs, and publications was impactful. Delving into the primary source materials presented a pivotal shift in her perspective on drama, denoted by a harmonizing of her identity as a creative and as a member of the Hispanic community, where there was once dissonance.
Her high school theatre program, although comprising a majority of Hispanic students, was limited in its scope. “Our only insight into theatre was through a white lens, so my ethnicity and identity as an artist were in separate boxes,” she said. Now pursuing higher education, García’s view of theatre had expanded, particularly through the research she conducted in the Kanellos collection.
New insights about Hispanic theatre materialized in the historical documents. “I had no idea the history behind Latino and Chicano theatre was so rich,” García said. She noticed that the archives presented a story of inclusion and empowerment, making theatre meaningful and engaging to Hispanic audiences. “The flyers we examined were more often than not advertising workshops or festivals, which was interesting,” García said. “These forms of presentations make theatre so much more accessible. The collection gave the impression that the goal for this Chicano theatre was to educate the community on what theatre can be, as a social platform and as a means of expressing oneself.”
Other notable observations surfaced for García in the collection, for instance, how musical presentations like corridos and boleros were produced as theatre, and the influence of Bertolt Brecht. “There was an inclination toward presenting epic theatre which at first took me off guard, but in retrospect it makes so much sense,” García said. “Hispanic artists were forcing their audience to take their message at face value. These plays were almost always about the Chicano experience. I think theatre is a great way to advocate, and these documents proved that a community can thrive with theatre used in those ways.”
One of the strengths of Special Collections is its focus on supporting the teaching and research activities of the University through preservation, organization, and description of materials representing a variety of perspectives. As a resource for the scholarly community and the general public, Special Collections offers endless potential for new knowledge that raises the visibility of these voices, both historical and contemporary.
A new collection, the Diana Foundation Oral Histories, is now accessible online at the UH Libraries Audio/Video Repository.
Through the Diana Foundation Oral History project, UH Libraries collected interviews with key members and past presidents of The Diana Foundation, America’s oldest continuously-running LGBTQ+ organization. The Diana Foundation is focused on assisting and supporting the needs of the gay community by fundraising on behalf of worthwhile civic, charitable, and educational endeavors. The interviews in this collection record the life experiences of notable Dianas, as well as their many insights on The Diana Foundation in the context of the LGBTQ+ community, the city of Houston, and beyond.
The collection features items from The Diana Foundation Records found in UH Libraries Special Collections.
An upcoming student-curated exhibit at University of Houston Libraries features the student organization Afro Americans for Black Liberation (AABL) and its success in the inception of the UH African American Studies Program in 1969.
Forged by Protest: Student Organization Afro Americans for Black Liberation (AABL) and the Genesis of the UH African American Studies Program was curated by Research for Aspiring Coogs in the Humanities (REACH) scholar Saron Regassa as an analog component of a digital project aiming to make the history of AABL accessible as an online resource. The exhibit is a collaboration between the UH department of African American Studies and UH Libraries.
In 1967, a UH sophomore, Gene Locke, created the student organization Committee for Better Race Relations (COBRR), which soon became Afro Americans for Black Liberation (AABL, pronounced “able”). On February 7, 1969, AABL presented their “10 Demands” to UH president Philip G. Hoffman, and throughout the semester, AABL rallied for support on campus. Among the demands was a call for a “Department of Afro-American Studies.” AABL’s activities led to the establishment of the UH Afro-American Program (now the department of African American Studies) later that year, making UH the first state university in Texas with such a program and one of the first in the nation. The UH African American Studies Program was granted departmental status in 2021. Tara T. Green joined the UH College of Liberal Arts and Social Sciences (CLASS) as founding chair of the department of African American Studies in 2022.
As part of the REACH project, Regassa is researching the history of AABL using archives across UH Special Collections, from student publications to UH administration records, and using the primary sources, provided the context and description for the exhibit. REACH is a year-long introductory research experience for undergraduates in humanities disciplines, and is supported by the Cougar Initiative to Engage and the Office of Undergraduate Research and Major Awards (OURMA). REACH connects students to existing UH digital humanities projects and allows them to develop research skills through mentored, first-hand scholarly inquiry and through participation in OURMA research programming. REACH participants will present their research at Undergraduate Research Day in April 2023.
The exhibit will be on display at MD Anderson Library from February 13 through March 13.
A new collection, the Pecan-Shellers’ Strike Documents, is now accessible online at UH Digital Collections.
Featuring 119 items from the Gov. James V. Allred Papers, found in UH Libraries Special Collections, the Pecan-Shellers’ Strike Documents collection describes labor activism of Hispanic women. As described by the Handbook of Texas, “On January 31, 1938, nearly 12,000 San Antonio pecan shellers, mostly Hispanic women, walked off their jobs.” The strike, led initially by Emma B. Tenayuca, lasted for three months and was marked by hundreds of arrests. “At Governor James Allred’s urging, the Texas Industrial Commission investigated possible violations of civil rights in San Antonio and found the police interference with the right of peaceful assembly to be unjustified.”
The materials in this collection have frequently been used for teaching in English department courses. The digital collection facilitates use of the materials in face-to-face, hybrid, or asynchronous instruction sessions.
Explore the collection with these notable items:
University of Houston Libraries welcomes Joyce Gabiola as the new LGBT History Research Collection librarian.
Please describe your role at UH Libraries. How does your work align with the research and teaching priorities of the University?
I’m building on the work of LGBTQI+ community members, along with archivist Vince Lee and the Special Collections team to preserve materials with historical meaning and make them accessible for researchers and the general public. In addition to archival appraisal, processing, curating, etc., part of my role is to build relationships and collaborate with members of the UH community and LGBTQI+ communities to support their teaching, research, and creative interests concerning LGBTQI+ history. This includes but is not limited to research assistance, instruction, discussing ideas for projects, selecting materials for exhibits, providing guidance for preserving materials, or just exploring the collections. The possibilities are endless.
Since I’m working with collections that were donated by members and organizations of historically marginalized and minoritized communities, acknowledging the power I hold as an agent of the academic institution that maintains these collections is essential to my work, as it is to the research and teaching priorities of the University, particularly concerning its strategic goal of social responsibility in building equity and inclusion.
Please share a bit about your background and research interests. How do these inspire and shape your approach as a librarian/archivist?
Houston is my hometown, so after 10+ years of living in Boston, L.A., and San Diego, I have returned in probably one of the best ways possible. It’s incredibly awesome that I get to do this work with the UH community (especially as an alum!) and fellow members of LGBTQI+ communities.
My direct and indirect experience spans academic, community, corporate, familial, and government environments, which have all shaped my approach as an archivist as well as a leader, mentor, researcher, and editor. For example, navigating academia has helped me pay more attention to structural powers that impact our work and relationships in archives, the field, and higher ed. Directing the daily operations of a precarious nonprofit LGBTQ community-powered archives with a low budget forced me to make challenging decisions that would have an impact on the safety and mental health of staff, interns, the community, and myself during a pandemic. And being a parent reminds me of all the jam hands that could possibly be near historical documents, which has prompted me to consider opportunities for K-12 engagement as well as policies around access to our material environment. My overarching approach is to intentionally work toward mitigating potential harm that can emerge in archival environments.
My latest publications explore power structures concerning marginalized or minoritized communities and archives. I’m the principal author of “It’s a Trap: Complicating Representation in Community-Based Archives,” which was published in The American Archivist this past July. My solo-authored essay, “(En)countering the Archival Sidekick,” was published in the Asian American Studies anthology, Q&A: Voices from Queer Asian North America, and it’s based on research that I conducted in four Texas archives as well as my autoethnographic experiences as a queer, more masculine-presenting person of color in the reading rooms and traveling between these different Texas cities.
What are one or two things you’d like people to know about working with archives?
Working with archives is powerful. I would venture to say that a lot of the public, including academics, either don’t know what archives are or they hold misconceptions of them. And yet, archives (plus folks who keep and care for historical materials) are essential to producing knowledge and understanding communities, cultures, and societies, as well as scientific and technological advancements. And it’s one thing to read about an historical event; it’s another to touch a document or object that physically connects you to that history.
Another thing I’d like people to know is that it’s okay for us to let go. Not everything is meant to or should be preserved. And depending on the context, it’s okay to forget and use our agency to protect through our own silence and absence. Some people intentionally subvert documentation of their histories and that of their communities as a way to protect against harm that can emerge through archival environments and relationships. Representation is complicated.
Working with archives is not simply about preserving historical materials and providing access to them. Among feelings of celebration and representation, archives are about people holding, abusing, or being impacted by structural power and navigating those realities through time and space; and it’s about how we consider those histories in order to resist or perpetuate that oppressive power in our present moment in an effort to shape the future. As I’ve stated, working with archives is powerful.
But also, working with archives is just plain cool…and the fact that I am able to do so with such a significant collection of LGBTQI+ history not only of UH, Houston and Texas, but of the nation (and eventually, the world) is beyond amazing.
This week, visitors to the University of Houston MD Anderson Library will notice a suite of banners in the atrium. The Banner Project, created by Houston activists Sara Fernandez and JD Doyle, is a pop-up exhibit featuring pivotal moments in Houston’s LGBT history from the 1930s to present day.
2022 marks the sixth year that UH Libraries has partnered with the creators to host the banners, sparking discussion, reflection, and awareness across campus and in the community. The banners will remain on display through October in honor of LGBT History Month, and on October 11, National Coming Out Day, staff from Special Collections will host an informational table in the atrium from 11am – 5pm, featuring archival materials from the LGBT History Research Collection. The Banner Project creators Fernandez and Doyle will be attending, as well as representatives from the UH LGBTQ Resource Center.