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Joseph Plaster

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 region through participatory action research, oral history initiatives, performances, and courses taught through the Program in Museums and Society and the Program for the Study of Women, Gender, and Sexuality. 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.

Plaster is the author of Kids on the Street: Queer Kinship and Religion in San Francisco’s Tenderloin (Feb. 2023, Duke University Press). Kids on the Street combines archival, ethnographic, and oral history research to explore the informal support networks that enabled abandoned and runaway queer youth to survive in tenderloin districts across the United States, and in San Francisco’s Tenderloin in particular. By highlighting a politics where the marginal position of street kids is the basis for a moral economy of reciprocity, he excavates a history of queer life that has been overshadowed by major narratives of gay progress and pride. His research has appeared in a range of scholarly venues, including The Public HistorianRadical History Review, The Abusable Past, Kalfou: A Journal of Comparative and Relational Ethnic Studies, and GLQ, and has been supported by grants from the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, 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—historians, archivists, artists, performers, and grassroots activists—as partners in research and creative expression. He directs the Peabody Ballroom Experience, a collaboration between Johns Hopkins University and the artists who make up Baltimore’s ballroom scene. As director of the Winston Tabb Special Collections Research Center, he advances public humanities scholarship by connecting faculty, students, staff, and the larger Baltimore community to the Sheridan Libraries’ special collections of rare books. Plaster directed the San Francisco ACT UP Oral History Project, Vanguard Revisited, and 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.

Education

  • 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

  • Director, Peabody Ballroom Experience, Oct 2018-present
    • Launched public humanities collaboration between Johns Hopkins University and Baltimore’s ballroom community
    • Public workshops with special collections materials, film screenings, panel discussions, and dance workshops; oral history interviews; documentary films; ball competitions at the George Peabody Library
  • Faculty Team, Inheritance Baltimore: Humanities and Arts Education for Black Liberation, June 2021-present
    • Support individuals and institutions in recording, archiving, and interpreting Black history in Baltimore
    • Oversees student fellowships and oral history workshops
  • 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

Selected Publications

  • Kids on the Street: Queer Kinship and Religion in San Francisco’s Tenderloin, Feb 2023, Duke University Press
  • “‘Homosexuals in Adolescent Rebellion:’ Central City Uprisings during the Long Sixties,” GLQ: A Journal of Lesbian and Gay Studies, April 2023
  • “Race, Sexuality, and U.S. Culture Wars,” Public History Weekly, Open Peer Review, forthcoming, Nov 2022
  • “The Category Is: Opulence! Performing Black Queer History in Baltimore’s ‘Cathedral of Books,’” Kalfou: A Journal of Comparative and Relational Ethnic Studies, Nov 2020
  • “Safe for Whom? And Whose Families? Narrative, Urban Neoliberalism, and Queer Oral Histories on San Francisco’s Polk Street,” The Public Historian, Aug 2020
  • “Black Queer Performance in Baltimore’s ‘Cathedral of Books,’” The Abusable Past, digital venue for the Radical History Review, Oct 2019
  • “The Peabody Ballroom Experience,” International Work, USA, Oral History, Autumn 2019
  • “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.

Selected Presentations

Invited Talks

  • “Archives, Performance, and Knowledge,” Community College of Baltimore County, MD, June 21, 2022.
  • “Listening to the City: Hearing, Interpreting, and Presenting Urban Experiences Mediated Through Life-Stories,” Malmö University, Malmö, Sweden, Sept 29, 2021
  • “Performing Black Queer History in Baltimore’s ‘Cathedral of Books,’” Columbia University Oral History Master of Arts Workshop Series, New York, NY, Mar 2021
  • “Black Queer Performance in Baltimore’s Cathedral of Books,” Johns Hopkins University Tabb Center Speaker Series, Baltimore, MD, Oct 15, 2019
  • “Sharing Authorities,” Oral History Practicum Graduate Seminar, UC Riverside Department of History, Riverside, CA, Jan 31, 2019
  • “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.

Conferences

  • Chair and Commentator, “Collecting, Archiving and Sharing LGBTQ+ Histories in Rural and Semi-Rural Communities,” Annual Meeting of the Oral History Association, Baltimore, Maryland, Oct 24, 2020
  • “New Directions in Queer Public History” Roundtable, Queer History Conference 2019 (QHC 19), San Francisco, California, June 17, 2019
  • “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.

Courses & Instruction

  • Lecturer, Johns Hopkins University, Program for the Study of Women, Gender, and Sexuality, “Queer Performativity,” Spring 2023
  • Lecturer, Johns Hopkins University, Program in Museums and Society, “Queer Oral History,” Spring 2022
  • Lecturer, Johns Hopkins University, Program in Museums and Society, “Queer Sixties,” Fall 2021
  • Instructor, “Baltimore’s Black Arts District: A Creative Archive,” Spring 2020
  • Lecturer, Johns Hopkins University, Program in Museums and Society, “Queer & Trans Public History,” Spring 2020
  • Lecturer, Johns Hopkins University, Program in Museums and Society, “Participatory Archives, Collaborative Oral History, and Social Justice,” Fall 2019
  • 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.

Service

  • International Advisory Board, Modern Literature and Culture Research Centre, Toronto Metropolitan University, Sept 2022-present
  • Program Committee, Oral History Association 2023 annual meeting, Baltimore MD
  • International Advisory Board, Malmö Life Stories, Nov 2021-present
  • Peer Reviewer for The Public Historian, 2021
  • Peer Reviewer for The Oral Historian, 2019
  • 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.

Curatorial

  • 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.

Selected Media Coverage

  • Rose Wagner, “Baltimore Was One of the First Cities to Celebrate Drag Culture,” Washington Post, June 2021
  • Bret McCabe, “Ballroom Blitz,” Johns Hopkins HUB, Oct 15, 2019
  • Cara Ober, “No Glitter Allowed: Ballroom 101,” Bmore Art, Apr 18, 2019
  • “Saving the Stories of San Francisco’s ACT UP Heroes,” The Advocate, Aug 18, 2017
  • “A ‘Golden’ Photographic Treasury of 1970s Gay Scene,” San Francisco Chronicle, Jan. 21, 2016
  • “See Roz Joseph’s Lost Photos of the Early San Francisco Drag Scene,” New York Magazine’s The Cut, Oct. 27, 2015
  • “Erasing Gay and Transgender History,” Huffington Post, Feb. 6, 2013
  • “Interdisciplinary Performance Studies Grow,” Yale Daily News, Dec. 6, 2012
  • “Making History: ‘Vanguard Revisited’ Has a Conversation with the Past,” Inside Stories, Mar. 20, 2011
  • “Political Notebook: Queer Youth Revive 1960s Magazine,” San Francisco Bay Area Reporter, Feb. 3, 2011
  • Talking History, University at Albany, State University of New York-based oral history informational center, podcast Sept. 30, 2010