B.44: My Ol’, Queer, Kentucky Home: Teaching, Theorizing, and Cultivating Queer Archives

Reviewed by: Airek Beauchamp, Arkansas State University, abeauchamp@astate.edu
Carmen Lanos Williams, Arkansas State University, clwilliams@astate.edu

Speakers: Michael Baumann, University of Louisville, “Teaching with Queer Archives in FYC”
Travis Rountree, University of Louisville, “Engaging Queer Archives: Analyzing and Celebrating LGBTQ Artifacts”
Caleb Pendygraft, Miami University of Ohio, “Bluegrass Blues: Trauma in in Queer Rural Literacy Archives”


In Michel Rolph Trouillot’s (1995) Silencing the past: Power and the production of history, he posits that “the ultimate mark of power…is invisibility” and “the ultimate challenge is the exposition of its roots.” In short, Trouillot insists that dominant narratives often obscure and silence competing narratives. However, making queer lives visible is the cornerstone of the pedagogical practice Michael Baumann and Travis Rountree describe in their panel discussion describing the use of queer archival materials in FYC classrooms. David Williams donated his private collection (The Williams-Nichols Collection) of queer artifacts to the University of Louisville. He began the archive in the 1970s and could no longer store artifacts in his home.

With the help of an archivist, Baumann and Rountree introduce students to the Williams-Nichols Collection of queer memorabilia.  The course also employs three films, Southern comfort, Brother outsider, and Outrage to orient students to the archive. They then guide students through the process of using primary source materials for the purpose of writing about and theorizing lived queer experiences. Additonally, students engage with campus organizations serving LGBTQ communities as a pedagogical practice acting in tandem with the required archival work and writing activities. 

There is much to commend in their pedagogical choices. First of all, the level of engagement inherent in the course design makes their course a potential model for other themed content accessing other kinds of archives. I say this because queer archives such as theirs are not widely available at other institutions. Secondly, their courses create conditions whereby students are challenged to use primary sources in order to unpack assumptions and consider their own biases. These are vital rhetorical and critical thinking strategies that developing writers struggle to acquire. Furthermore, there is something to the experiential nature of the course. Reading, touching, “queerying,” writing, and reflecting are all signs of deep learning. The student responses Baumann and Rountree shared indicated that they found the experience of accessing queer archives valuable to their writing and to their lives. Moreover, their course makes queerness visible and valuable. As a result, it is the kind of course that does the double-duty of helping to usher students toward being better citizens and members of university communities.

The two panelists, however, fielded three questions that have the potential to improve the course.  First, they were asked whether they thought the course in its current iteration is transportable. Will it fly in more rural settings, at institutions without strong LGBTQ communities, or ones with fewer resources than are represented in Louisville, Kentucky? Second, does the archive have holdings representative of queer people of color, particularly women of color? And finally, how might the course/archive be more inclusive for other marginal groups, such as queer people of colorand trans community members?

-- Carmen Lanos Williams

Those last two questions are what gave me pause. As a white, cis-gendered queer man I am accustomed to seeing myself reflected in portrayals of queer culture, especially since beards have come back into vogue. In the past several years the problems of race and gender in queer cultural representation have gone equally addressed and ignored, depending on personal identity and the company one keeps. If you happen to be a queer people of color, gender-identifying in queer ways, or you inhabit a combination of identifiers that sets you apart from the traditional representations of queer culture, you find concepts like a queer archive to be specious. You find yourself left out of the conversation. I would even argue that these distinctions of inclusion and exclusion are often ways to differentiate between the terms gay and queer. Gay is white, male, usually vanilla, politically liberal in safe ways. Queer is everything else. If we don’t investigate this deeply divisive and often-ignored aspect of LGBTQ studies, I have to wonder what sort of pedagogies we are actually engaging in.

My response echoes and hopefully problematizes this discussion. Superficially, the pedagogies enacted in Baumann and Rountree’s course do important work in composition and writing studies instruction—working with primary sources and learning to navigate archives are important processes in most scholarship; this instruction will translate across disciplines. As you might have guessed, it is the rhetorical foregrounding of the assumptions set forth by Rountree and Baumann with which I take issue.

As Carmen mentioned previously, on the surface the course is designed to ask students to engage with their biases and preconceived notions regarding homosexuality. I am specifically using that term in deference to the vast realm of identities that are seemingly excluded from not only the archives but from the conversation in general. When the panelists were asked about the Williams-Nichols’ inclusion of women or people of color, the response was almost flippant. Maybe most importantly the speakers did not address the question until the following Q & A. The answer was that white cis men dominate the conversation and representation, and thus white men are the bulk of the identities represented in the archive and the course. In other words, the power structures represented by Baumann and Rountree were such that the ubiquity of white men, until interrogated by the audience, was invisible. Very important questions of personal bias, hegemony, outreach, and potentially most importantly the Harawayan idea of kin and kind—not the differences we face but the multiplicities of ways we can bridge difference—seemed to go ignored.

There are ways to address this, of course. The archive could be presented as a snapshot of a time in which cis white men dominated queer representation. The specious nature of this representation could be interrogated—what cultural events pushed this representation? For example, the AIDS crisis prompted some activists to assimilate into culturally dominant tropes, pushing women and people of color, as well as drug users and the kink community, further to the margins. But with these questions seemingly unaddressed I am somewhat dubious of any speculative pedagogical innovation.

-- Airek Beauchamp


Troillot, Michel-Rolph. (1995). Silencing the past: Power and the production of history. Boston, MA: Beacon Press.

Created by cheryl. Last Modification: Monday 15 of January, 2018 22:47:32 UTC by cheryl.