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Department: Special Collections
Allison Seyler, an archivist and public historian currently works as the Hopkins Retrospective Program Manager at Johns Hopkins University. Her research both as a graduate student at UMBC and archivist on the Legacy of Slavery team at the Maryland State Archives, has been rooted in exploring how historians can illuminate ordinary peoples’ experiences using archival records. She investigates how we make these stories relevant and accessible to public audiences, while directly confronting issues of equity, diversity, and inclusion in the field more broadly. Allison has served on the board of the Baltimore City Historical Society since 2018.
University of Maryland, Baltimore County
- 2012 – M.A., Historical Studies, Public History track
- 2010 – B.A., History, French
- 2018-Present, Hopkins Retrospective Program Manager, Sheridan Libraries, Johns Hopkins University
- 2016-2018: Archivist, B&O Railroad Museum
- 2012-2016: Research Archivist, Legacy of Slavery in Maryland Project, Maryland State Archives
- 2013-2016: Circulation Assistant, Baltimore County Public Library
Dr. Joseph Plaster is Curator in Public Humanities and Director of the Winston Tabb Special Collections Research Center for the Sheridan Libraries & University Museums. In this capacity, he cultivates an exchange of knowledge between the university and greater Baltimore community through participatory action research, oral history initiatives, performance, and courses taught through the Program in Museums and Society. His research and teaching combine archival, oral history, and public humanities methods to examine the world-making practices of marginalized publics in the United States, with a focus on intersections of gender, sexuality, and race.
His current book project, Kids on the Street (forthcoming, Duke University Press), combines archival, ethnographic, and oral history research to explore the informal support networks that enabled queer street kids to survive in vice districts across the United States, and in San Francisco’ Tenderloin in particular, over the last century. His research has appeared in a range of scholarly venues, including The Public Historian, Radical History Review, The Abusable Past, and Kalfou: A Journal of Comparative and Relational Ethnic Studies, and has been supported by grants from the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Mellon Foundation, and fellowships at The New York Public Library and The Graduate Center of the City University of New York.
Plaster’s public humanities projects bring together diverse publics—curators, archivists, artists, and activists—as partners in research and education. The Peabody Ballroom Experience is an ongoing collaboration with the queer and trans artists of color who make up Baltimore’s ballroom scene. As part of the faculty team for Inheritance Baltimore: Humanities and Arts Education for Black Liberation, Plaster develops community-based oral history projects. He was awarded the American Historical Association’s Allan Bérubé Prize for Polk Street: Lives in Transition, which drew on original oral histories to intervene in debates about gentrification, homelessness, queer politics, and public safety in the highly polarized setting of gentrifying San Francisco.
- Yale University, PhD in American Studies, May 2018
- Certificate in Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies, May 2018
- Yale University, M.A. and M.Phil in American Studies, 2013
Public Humanities Experience
- Director, San Francisco ACT UP Oral History Project, Summer 2017-Summer 2018
- Launched project chronicling San Francisco’s AIDS direct action movement
- Trained youth volunteers to conduct oral histories
- Outcomes to include oral histories with at least 40 ACT UP veterans; exhibition at the GLBT History Museum; multimedia Internet presence
- Director, Vanguard Revisited, Jan. 2010-June 2011.
- Won funding from major foundations; collaborated with five non-profit, social service, and faith-based organizations
- Designed public history project through which San Francisco’s homeless GLBT youth documented and interpreted the legacy of 1960s street youth organizing
- Outcomes: youth-produced historical magazine; historical walking tours; street theater reenactments; intergenerational discussion groups; national speaking tour of GLBT homeless youth shelters and faith communities
- Director, Polk Street: Lives in Transition, Oct. 2007-Dec. 2009.
- Recorded more than seventy oral histories from people experiencing the gentrification of a historic, working class GLBT San Francisco neighborhood
- Interpreted oral histories through programs designed to shape redevelopment and encourage dialogue among those competing for urban territory
- Outcomes: multimedia exhibit; professionally mediated neighborhood dialogues; oral history “listening parties;” radio documentary distributed nationally via NPR; historical narrative commissioned by the Center for Lesbian and Gay Studies at CUNY
- Director, Oberlin College LGBT Oral History Project, July 2005-Jun. 2007.
- Interpreted more than seventy oral histories through thesis-length paper and permanent, multimedia archive
- Website maintained by the college and used as a teaching resource in Oberlin classrooms
- “Conflict and Community: Facilitating Bridge-Building through Oral History,” Concordia University Centre for Oral History and Digital Storytelling, Montreal, Canada, Mar. 19, 2014.
- “Behind the Masks: GLBT Life at Oberlin College,” Oberlin College, Oberlin, OH, Sept. 22, 2012.
- “Queer Public Histories of the Tenderloin,” Sonoma State University Queer Studies Lecture Series, Sonoma, CA, Feb. 16, 2010.
- “The Compton’s Cafeteria Riot at 50,” Annual Meeting of the American Studies Association, Denver, Colorado, November 17-20, 2016.
- “‘Living in Her Memory:’ Queer Kinship and Survival through Sylvia Rivera’s Ashes,” Annual Meeting of the American Studies Association, Denver, Colorado, November 17-20, 2016.
- “Roundtable: Solidarity in Oral History and Anthropology,” Solidarit(i)es, CASCA & SANA annual conference, Dalhousie University, Halifax, Nova Scotia, May 15, 2016.
- Respondent, “Memorials and Traumas of Nationhood,” Farewell Performances: A Conference of Interdisciplinary Performance Studies at Yale, Whitney Humanities Center, Yale University, Apr. 18, 2015.
- “‘Idealists of the Slums:’ Queer Intimacies and the Ambivalence of the Sacred in San Francisco’s Tenderloin,” European Social Science History Conference, Vienna, Austria, Apr. 26, 2014.
- “Pubic History Exhibits: Institutions, Communities and Curators Collaborate,” Annual Meeting, American Alliance of Museums, Baltimore, MA, May 20, 2013.
- “The Pleasures and Perils of LGBTQ Public History,” American Historical Association Annual Conference, Chicago, IL, Jan. 8, 2012.
- “Street Family: Queer Performativity in San Francisco’s Tenderloin,” (doctoral dissertation, Yale University American Studies, March 2018)
- “Imagined Conversations and Activist Lineages: Public Histories of Queer Homeless Youth Organizing in San Francisco’s Tenderloin,” Radical History Review Issue 113, May 2012.
- “Polk Street: Lives in Transition,” commissioned by the Graduate Center of the City University of New York’s OutHistory Project, published online, Apr. 2009.
- “Behind the Masks: GLBT Life at Oberlin College,” thesis-length historical narrative written under the direction of Prof. Carol Lasser, 2001, revised 2007.
- “The Rise and Fall of a Polk Street Hustler,” San Francisco Bay Guardian cover story, Mar. 18, 2009.
- “Importing Injustice: Deregulation and the Port of Oakland’s Neighbors,” San Francisco Bay Guardian cover story, July 18, 2007.
- Digital Humanities Fellow, “Spatial Humanities and Social Justice,” Yale University, Spring 2017
- Lecturer, “Interdisciplinary Approaches to Oral History Narrative,” Yale University, Fall 2016.
- Lecturer, “Public Humanities and Social Justice,” Yale University, Spring 2017
- Lecturer, “Queer/Trans Performativity,” Yale University, Spring 2017
- Teaching Fellow, “Race, Class, and Gender in American Cities,” Yale University, Fall 2017.
- Teaching Fellow, “Formation of Modern American Culture,” Yale University, Spring 2015.
- Teaching Fellow, “U.S. Lesbian and Gay History,” Yale University, Fall 2013.
Awards, Fellowships, and Grants
- American Historical Association’s Allan Bérubé Prize for outstanding work in public GLBT history, 2010.
- National Council for Public History, “Outstanding Public History Project Award,” Polk Street: Lives in Transition, 2011.
- California Council for the Humanities “Humanities for All” grant, ACT UP San Francisco Oral History Project, 2017.
- Yale University Fund for Lesbian and Gay Studies Award, Fall 2011 and Summer 2014.
- Martin Duberman Visiting Scholar, New York Public Library, New York, NY, 2011.
- California Council for the Humanities “Stories Grant,” Tenderloin: Stories of Transformation, 2010.
- National Endowment for the Arts, Polk Street Stories Radio Hour, distributed nationally through NPR’s Hearing Voices, 2010.
- Coordinator, Yale Ethnography and Oral History Initiative, 2016-2017
- Board Member, Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgender Historical Society, 2015-2016.
- Allan Bérubé Prize committee member, Committee on LGBT History of the American Historical Association, 2012.
- Core Working Group, Groundswell: Oral History for Social Change, 2012-2013. Organized first Groundswell Oral History and Social Justice Gathering, Ossining, NY, May 17-19, 2013.
- Co-Chair, Yale University Public Humanities Working Group, 2012-2014.
- Curator, Reigning Queens: Roz Joseph’s Lost Photos, Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender Historical Society Museum, San Francisco, Oct. 2015-Feb 2016.
- Curator, Our Vast Queer Past: Celebrating GLBT History, Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender Historical Society Museum, San Francisco, Aug. 2010.
- Curator, Forty Years of Pride. Contractor with the San Francisco Pride Committee, Apr. 2010.
- Curator, Polk Street: Lives in Transition, Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender Historical Society main gallery, San Francisco, Jan. 2009-Aug. 2009.
- Curator, Passionate Struggle: Dynamics of San Francisco’s GLBT History, Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender Historical Society Museum, San Francisco, 2008.
- MLS (1987)
- MA, History (1983)
I am the William Kurrelmeyer Curator of Rare Books and Manuscripts in the Sheridan Libraries and Adjunct Professor in the English Department and the Program in Museums and Society. I also serve as Associate Editor of Archive Journal and as Executive Director of the Society for Textual Scholarship.
In the Sheridan Libraries, I am responsible for 19th-, 20th-, and 21st-century collections of rare and archival materials. I pay special attention to women’s, LGBTQ+, and African American history, literature, and culture, the latter in concert with the Africana Archives Initiative of the Billie Holiday Project for Liberation Arts, led by Lawrence P. Jackson, Bloomberg Professor of History and English. In collaboration with the Billie Holiday Project and the Program in Racism, Immigration, and Citizenship, I am affiliated with Inheritance Baltimore.
I am keenly aware of the power and privilege that curators, archivists, and librarians wield, through the assemblage, description, and interpretation of materials (for assemblage and description, in themselves, are forms of interpretation). I am, therefore, particularly dedicated to collecting, preserving, and illuminating the material traces of people, places, ideas, and events that have been distorted, marginalized, or suppressed in the historical record—as well as the “minor” threads within dominant narratives. These histories are often carried by material forms that are themselves vulnerable to misinterpretation, physically fragile, or simply outside the norms that book-focused scholarship has emphasized. Ongoing interests in this respect are postcards, photographs, short-lived periodicals, ephemera, private and limited publications, inexpensive multiples, artist books, and text-image relationships across many kinds of media—as well as archival formats like personal papers, letters, diaries, manuscripts, and digital records. These materials, and the voices they bear through time, require conscientious care in terms of organization and description, and even new collecting paradigms. Only through such care, guided by strong principles, can we hope to gradually unravel the legacies of inequity that our collections have helped to perpetuate.
With Shane Butler, the Nancy H. and Robert E. Hall Professor in the Humanities and Professor of Classics, I co-pilot the John Addington Symonds Project, the inaugural manifestation of the Classics Research Lab. I also teach classes about 19th– and early 20th-century American literary culture focused on rare, archival, and digital materials, which frequently involve students in curatorial and editorial projects—for example, in spring 2020, Scribbling Women: Gender, Writing, and the Archive.
I have been the lead curator of over fourteen exhibitions at Hopkins, including major exhibitions about H. L. Mencken (with the George H. Thompson Collection of Henry Louis Mencken), Stephen Crane (with the Richard Frary Collection of Stephen Crane Materials), John Barth (with the John Barth Collection), and Edgar Allan Poe (with the Susan Jaffe Tane Collection of Edgar Allan Poe). In 2019-2020, I co-curated (with Denis Curatorial Fellow Christina Thomas, a PhD candidate in the Department of History) City People: Black Baltimore in the Photographs of John Clark Mayden and (with Shane Butler and students in the John Addington Symonds Project) Queer Connections: The Library of John Addington Symonds, which featured a copy of Symonds’ A Problem in Greek Ethics, a very scarce, privately printed essay that laid the foundations for the modern LGBTQ+ rights movement.
My published scholarship focuses on authorship and photography, race and gender in the archival record, and the exchanges between textual and visual cultures during the industrial era of print—ie, the mid 19th century through the mid 20th century. My essay on Emily Dickinson’s sheet music was recently published at the Dickinson Electronic Archives, part of a longer project on Dickinson’s sheet music, race, gender, and the 19th-century domestic scene. Essays on queer authorship—that of Henry James and Gertrude Stein—are forthcoming. Previous work has been published in the journals Modernism/modernity, The Journal of Modern Periodical Studies, Digital Humanities Quarterly, and Textual Cultures, among others, and the book collections Digital Pedagogy in the Humanities, edited by Rebecca Frost Davis, Katherine D. Harris, and Matt Gold, Emily Dickinson in Context, edited by Eliza Richards, Primary Stein, edited by Janet Boyd and Sharon J. Kirsch, and Past or Portal?: Teaching Undergraduates Using Special Collections and Archives, edited by Eleanor Mitchell, Peggy Seiden and Suzy Taraba.
My C.V. and more information about my curatorial work, research, and teaching are available at https://mediumraresquare.net/.