Thursday, March 19, 2009

Lesbian Herstory Archives

My mind is swimming from the six hours that I spent at the Lesbian Herstory Archives this week. In total, I've probably spent a scant twenty hours there over a number of trips to New York this year, but I love being there and doing research there. Some of the interesting things about the archive:

1. It is in a Brooklyn brownstone near Prospect Park. So approaching it, it feels more like going into someone's house (and indeed it was in Joan Nestle's home for many years) as opposed to going into an institutional location. I think this makes a difference in how to approach the work. Today, for the first time, I ate my lunch there. Yup, just popped open the peanut satay, mixed it up in the kitchen, microwaved it, and noshed. It was like taking a break at home.

2. All of the books are alphabetical by the author's first name. Yes, that's first name. It's a bit confusing at first. They are also sorted by category - poetry, novels, international. There is an element of randomness to it, but I like that because it's not randomness actually it is the result of years of thought and care by hundreds of lesbians operating as a collective. The files on individuals are also alphabetical by first name.

3. There are three boxes of material from Adrienne Rich.

4. Today I reviewed all of the issues of The Ladder. It's interesting to see how the issues and ideas about being a homosexual, homophile, lesbian, feminist change and evolve from 1956 until 1972 when the journal published. There is also a fascinating article or dissertation on lesbian comics. There are line drawings on the cover of The Ladder and comics inside. This would be an interesting topic and would of course include Alison Bechdel and the artist that draws Hothead Paisan (which is in the kitchen next to the photocopier at the LHA). If I didn't have enough to write already, I would write that.

5. You can make tea while you do your work at the Lesbian Herstory Archives.

6. I have more notes and copies and ideas than I'll ever be able to do anything with. This is the challenge of research - can't I just read it all and then never write about any of it?

If you haven't been to the Lesbian Herstory Archives and are around Brooklyn, make a plan to go. The hours are somewhat erratic, but posted monthly on their website. It's worth the trip. If you have material to donate, do it now. If you haven't made a gift, make a gift. Include them in your will and/or estate plan. We all need this institution!

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