Learn About Gay & Lesbian Activist History in the NYPL Free Digital Archives

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“Gay rights demonstration, Albany, New York, 1971” photo by Diana Davies (Image Source: NYPL Manuscripts and Archives Division)

The New York Public Library’s (NYPL) Digital Collections contain over 843,000 digitized items you can browse for free online. Whether you’re battling ennui or insomnia, killing time, or researching with a purpose, the digital archives offer something for everyone. From photography and poster collections to historic maps and atlases, fashion collections to manuscripts, early twentieth century video and sound recordings to ancient letters, the NYPL’s online archives grant visitors access to history.

Of the hundreds of thousands of digitized items included on the site, countless photographs and bundled negatives depicting images of gay and lesbian rights activists make up a digital time capsule that offer a glimpse into resistance history. In honor of Pride month, and in order to dive into history in a new way, spend some time browsing the NYPL’s digital collections to get to know more about gay and lesbian history in the United States.

Start by going to the main page of the NYPL digital collections here, scroll down to the conveniently located section titled GAY & LESBIAN HISTORY, and click see more. The main page is also a great place to start because it serves as the point of departure for exploring all that the site has to offer. There are clearly labeled sections that contain different subsections featuring different types of content. The featured images for each show section function as signposting. Depending on when you’re reading this article, the GAY & LESBIAN HISTORY section may no longer be featured and, in that case, you’ll have use the search function at the top of the page.

Once you’re in the GAY & LESBIAN HISTORY section you’ll find (more or less than) three subsections (depending on site updates): the International Gay Information Center collection, the Barbara Gittings and Kay Tobin Lahusen gay history papers and photographs, and the Diana Davies photographs. They all contain different photos and documents that showcase events from the 1960s-1980s, primarily uprisings and demonstrations.

When you click on the individual images within the subsections, you’re taken to a page that gives more information about the photo or document. You’ll even find pre-formatted citations in MLA, APA, and Chicago/Turabian that can be cooked directly from the site if you click “Cite This Item” button next to the “More Details” button.

If you click “More Details”, you’ll find a Rights Statement, Copyright Notice, Physical Description, and more identifying information including where the physical document can be found in the brick and mortar library. It’s a good idea to look at all of the information provided by the NYPL about the document if you plan of using it and you’re worried about the legality of your usage. Over 180,000 digitized items are in the public domain and the NYPL makes it easy to download the items in the “highest resolution available directly from the Digital Collections website.”

While browsing the digital archives, consider digging deeper into the documents you find. Research the names of the people featured in the photographs, find supplementary texts about the organizations and demonstrations depicted. Learn more about the Mattachine Society, the Empty Closet, or the Lavender Menace. The NYPL’s digital collections make it easier than ever to immerse yourself in history and find out more about the past via moments frozen in time.

With the NYPL digital collections, you can browse an extensive archival database wherever you can connect to WiFi. On your laptop, at your desktop, or from the comfort of your bed while on your smartphone, access to hundreds of thousands of digitized items of history are available for free online. Museums can be a great place to visit but there are other options available for experiencing and learning about history. Archives, particularly of the digital variety, offer another way to time travel via historic artifacts. With Pride month right around the corner, consider learning more about the history of gay and lesbian rights activism by exploring the NYPL digital collections. It’s free and there’s so much more to browse after you’ve spent hours lurking those archives. Start your search here and the rest is history.

NYC-based philosophy graduate student whose work covers Genocide Studies, Repro + Enviro Justice, and Critical Race Theory. @moontwerk

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