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Harvard Chronicles the Early Days of AIDS Activism With Help From the ACT UP Oral History Project

By Warren Tong

October 27, 2011

Since 2001, the ACT UP Oral History Project has been conducting interviews with surviving members of ACT UP/New York. By sharing the stories of early AIDS activism, the project, started by playwright and former ACT UP member Sarah Schulman and filmmaker Jim Hubbard, aims to preserve the legacy of the group.

And there's so much to preserve: ACT UP's most radical demonstrations included spreading ashes of people who have passed away from AIDS onto the White House lawn, marching through Manhattan with open caskets, and placing a giant condom on Jesse Helms' house. ACT UP really influenced AIDS activism here in the U.S. and around the world.

The Harvard College Library, in an effort to keep the group's memory alive and diversify the school's holdings, recently acquired the collection of interviews from ACT UP Oral History Project. The college purchased this collection for $500,000 with funding from the Douglass Roby Fund, which was started in 1986 with the mission of purchasing and maintaining LGBT media.

The Boston Globe reported:

The collection reflects an effort to diversify the library's holdings, said Alison Scott, a senior librarian for American history at the university.

"Different people who make up American history -- queer history, native Americans, African-Americans, Asians, Hispanics -- all of that needs to be a part of how we form the collection for historical study," Scott said.

The oral history will be the library's first exclusively digital audiovisual collection, an initial step in a campaign to turn the institution's vast holdings of CDs, beta tapes, 45s, and wax cylinders into a Web-based repository accessible anywhere.

With the funding from Harvard, Schulman can finish the collection, which still needs 25 interviews digitized and around 70 more people interviewed.

Visit the ACT UP Oral History Project's website.

Warren Tong is the research editor for TheBody.com and TheBodyPRO.com.

Follow Warren on Twitter: @WarrenAtTheBody.


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