my visit to the Kroch archives at Cornell University

By: LeiLani Dowell

Hi all,

So, as I mentioned in class today, I visited the archives at the Kroch Library at Cornell University on Nov. 26. After sending an email informing the library that I would be in town and interested in making a visit there (I’m looking back at the email now; I had told them I was interested in looking at specific papers, rather than our generic assignment, and that I was a Ph.D. student at the GC), I received an enthusiastic response with links to the collection guide and the online registration system.

Getting to the actual archives involved interacting with three different staff people, all of whom were very friendly (the woman at the registration desk perhaps a little more friendly than I would have liked; she held me hostage in a lengthy and perhaps inappropriate discussion about the PBS show “Finding Your Roots” after inquiring about my name and my heritage). At the front desk, a young man instructed me and my partner to leave all our belongings, except for a laptop or tablet and our IDs, in a locker, then directed me to the registration desk. There I had the long-winded conversation with the staffer while she took my photo and looked up my reservation of the materials I wanted to look at. My partner, who is at Cornell, was also either required or encouraged to register, I can’t remember which. Finally, we were sent to the reading room, where another staffer had already secured the box I had requested and handed it over to me.

The reading room was a comfortable, well-lit place, stocked with green paper (I found it funny that they kept telling me I could take notes on the “green paper,” as if other colors of paper were forbidden) and pencils.

I had decided to look at the papers of Brian McNaught, who did work around combatting homophobia in the 1990s. Among other things, McNaught produced training materials on homosexuality. Along with a lots of videotapes, a flyer announcing a lecture, a reference guide to the video and film reels, and a letter from an official at the USDA asking for some of McNaught’s materials, there were also random bits of nostalgia, such as the pinup I mentioned in class from Honcho magazine, an album cover for “Jungle Drums – Wild Dreams” (not sure which is the band name and which is the album title) featuring a white man and a Black man embracing over a bongo drum, etc.

I mentioned in class that I found McNaught’s usage of the “gay liberation” trope in his otherwise mainstream work to be interesting. Something else I’d like to mention is that the lecture flyer is for an event entitled “Homophobia: What’s Its Cause? Can It Be Cured?” I’m currently working on a project that looks at the ways that the terminology of “homophobia” and “transphobia” pathologizes and individualizes attacks on LGBTQ peoples, avoiding discursive treatments and understandings of the systematic and deeply structural nature of heteronormativity and heterosexism. So I found it immensely intriguing that here was an event to discuss whether homophobia could be “cured.” I might make another trip to the archives to see if I can find any footage of this event in the future.

So, all in all, this was a (mostly) pleasant experience and I’m really glad I got the opportunity to get my feet wet in the archives.