Migrating Archives: Participating Archives

Migrating archivesMigrating Archives creates connections between organizations around the world that preserve lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender historical materials. It is also a glimpse into what these organizations do and collect: I invited each participant to send images and descriptions from one or two archives in their collections. Most represent individuals who have died, ranging from the famous to the totally unknown. These individual archives have migrated from their geographical origins to become guests at the GLBT History Museum. As delegates chosen to visit San Francisco, the materials form a collective portrait of twelve international organizations and some of the histories they preserve. The video component of the display introduces some of the people who made it possible for these archives to migrate for this exhibition. My idea is to put materials precious to each collection into motion as they become guest archives, sometimes crossing national borders more easily than we can. For people whose traces are so often erased, even by our families, omitted from official histories, or just lost, archives are a way of creating our own lineage. Migrating Archives is another step in this vital and very queer process of historical self-creation.

~ E.G. Crichton

A Wandering Archivist
by Graham Willett

I have been involved with the Australian Lesbian and Gay Archives since about 1994, when I started using the collection for my PhD research on the Australian lesbian and gay movement. I very soon realised that without the collection the history that I was proposing to write would have been near impossible. Being of an activist inclination, I found myself volunteering. From there it was short step to committee membership – and from there there is no escape. I don’t remember when we got our first website but it was then that I began to realise that our collection was not the only one of its kind. The web creator had set up a whole bunch of links to other GLQ archives around the world. In New Zealand, in New York, in Berlin, in San Francisco, in Johannesburg people just like us were collecting, preserving, disseminating homosexual histories. It was my first brush with the transnationality of our little world of collectors. (It was some time later that one of ALGA’s founders told me that he had been inspired by the work of the Canadian Gay Archives (as it was then) when he was visiting Toronto – so we were in that sense born transnational.)

As my career advanced and I started to teach, research and publish in the field of gay and lesbian history, I started to get study leave and travel grants and I got the chance to actually visit these collections, and the people that created and sustained them. Suddenly our work seemed less cut off from the rest of the world. Despite our being in a country – as a future Prime Minister had so charmingly put in 1990 – at the arse end of the world, ALGA could see that we were, in fact, part of a global network of activity that was much denser than we had realised. Scattered across the globe there were houses and warehouses, basements, garages, cupboards filled with newspapers   and newsletters and magazines, badges, t-shirts, flyers and leaflets, banners and photos and audio tapes which contained the rich and priceless history of a vilified, marginalised and – in the case of men – criminalised minority that has been changing the world in quite remarkable ways.

More recently we have started to institutionalise these networks – but institutionalise in a good way. The LGBT ALMS may have a silly name, but the opportunity for people involved in archives, libraries, museums and special collections to get together every couple of years to share our pleasures and pains, to solve problems, to float ideas, to envy each other’s problems (apparently a million dollar bequest creates as many problems as it solves!) is invaluable. These gatherings bring together old archives and new, large and small, globally-focussed as well as national and local, community-wide and sectional (leather and lesbians).

And there are more informal collaborations as well. Collections share their finds and link to each other’s websites. EG Crichton’s Migrating Archives is an example of the application of art practices to the disciplines of archiving and history that generates new uses of archival materials, new insights in our histories, and new kinds of pleasures.

I have always said that I do gay and lesbian history not because it is important (though I think it is) but because I love it. I love archiving especially – the thrill of the chase, the struggle to understand what a particular artefact is and what it means, the opportunity to explain it to wider communities in ways that make sense to them. As we wander the world – whether physically, or in our imaginations, or electronically – we are making all this possible in richer and more wonderful ways than anyone could ever have imagined. And we are not done yet …


I would like to welcome you to the Migrating Archives exhibition, a sponsored project of the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual Transgender Historical Society created and directed by Artist-in-Residence E.G. Crichton. The GLBT History Museum is proud to be the first host to this traveling exhibition. The GLBT Historical Society was founded in 1985 and is recognized internationally as a leader in the field of GLBT public history. The society’s professionally staffed archives preserve one of the world’s largest collections of GLBT historical materials. The society also sponsors The GLBT History Museum in San Francisco’s Castro District, the only full-scale, stand-alone museum of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender history and culture in the United States. Through this exhibition, we are delighted to host the guest archives of twelve international collections dedicated to GLBT history.

- Paul Boneberg, Executive Director


egE.G. Crichton is an interdisciplinary artist and teacher who lives in San Francisco. She is a professor of art at the University of California, Santa Cruz, and has served as artist-in-residence the GLBT Historical Society since 2008. Her work uses a range of art strategies and media to explore social issues, history and site-specific subject matter. She often collaborates in community settings and across disciplines with visual artists, performers, writers, scientists, composers and others. Her work has been exhibited in art institutions and as public installations in, Europe, Asia, Australia, and across the United States.