It was like my bookshelf came to life! The Gay American History @ 40 conference in New York in May 2016 gave me a unique opportunity to meet with and engage with my ‘heroes’, the LGBT scholars whose pioneering work has inspired and stimulated my own work.
I have long admired, and been inspired by, the work of John D’Emilio, Jonathan Ned Katz, Esther Newton and the many other LGBT historians who gathered together at this conference – their scholarship and activism has motivated me to want to work on documenting, analysing and sharing the rich history of the Cork LGBT community. At the early stages of my own work on the Cork LGBT Archive, John D’Emilio had taken the time to engage in email discussions with me, providing invaluable advice and encouragement. It was a pleasure then to be able to meet him at the conference, to be able to meet and engage with my ‘heroes’ and to be present for a stimulating, and at times heated, discussion on the current state of LGBT history.
Gay American History @ 40 was a combination conference, a reunion of academic / activist comrades and a tribute to the inspirational work of Jonathan Ned Katz. The conference marked the fortieth anniversary of Jonathan Ned Katz’s Gay American History: Lesbians and Gay Men in the USA (1976) and it provided an opportunity to discuss the ways in which theories, categories, research methods and priorities have been constructed, challenged, and reconstructed over the last forty years of historical research on sexuality and gender.
The conference also provide an opportunity to engage with new scholars and with my contemporaries; those who are working on similar projects to my own. Eric Nolan Gonzaba has developed the fabulous Wearing Gay History site which digitises LGBT t-shirts. Eric also uses Omeka for his site, the same tool that I have used to create the Cork LGBT Digital Archive. We had been aware of each other’s work before the conference and had been in contact and communication via Twitter. The conference provided us with an opportunity to meet and to have in-depth and quite nerdy conversations about Omeka! I learned so much from these interactions and came home with loads of new ideas on how to organise and update my site.
I also reconnected with the team from OutHistory.org. We discussed ways in which we could share information and learning and agreed to explore the possibility of including Exhibits from the Cork LGBT Archive on the OutHistory site.
While in many ways the conference was a joyous occasion, there was an underlying tension apparent from the very first session between some older lesbian-feminists who felt that transgender history and politics was leading to an erasure of ‘lesbians’. Rachel Hope Cleves, in a guest blog post on Notches blog, discusses this tension and notes: “That disagreement did not finish with the close of the panel but continued through to the conference’s very end, and expressed itself along three related axes: anger about the historical erasure of lesbianism; distrust of the aggressive historicism applied to the category of lesbianism; and fear of the loss of lesbian identity within a trans futurity.”
It was wonderful to have the opportunity to present a paper at this conference, to raise awareness of the Cork LGBT Archive and to get feedback on my work.
In the spirit of Digital Humanities I live tweeted from the conference, rather than taking notes! So it seems apt then that my conference ‘report’ would use these tweets, which capture the atmosphere and debates of the conference.