Animating Ephemera through Oral History: Interpreting Visual Traces of California Gay College Student Organizing from the 1970s

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Ephemeral evidence, or ephemera (including posters, flyers, and other materials created for short-term purposes), poses numerous challenges to archivists and researchers seeking to understand their provenance, veracity, and significance. In particular, scholars of gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, and queer people and communities frequently encounter such materials since ephemera has become a central element of much queer archiving practice. Drawing on an ongoing research project examining the history of gay and lesbian college student organizing as an example, this article suggests how oral history can help "animate" ephemera, providing researchers a way to enhance the interpretive value of such fleeting evidence. Oral histories can transform "queer campus ephemera," traces of 1970s queer student histories in the form of flyers, posters, and short-lived newsletters produced by gay and lesbian students, into more substantive evidence of the social and political climate in which such students lived, went to school, and organized. Through these examples, the article explores the benefits (and limitations) of using oral history to interpret ephemeral archival evidence.
Original languageAmerican English
JournalOral History Review
StatePublished - 2012


  • LCBTQ history
  • college students
  • ephemera
  • methodology
  • oral history


  • Feminist, Gender, and Sexuality Studies
  • Sociology

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