Dr. Joseph Plaster is Director of the Winston Tabb Special Collections Research Center and Curator in Public Humanities for the Sheridan Libraries & University Museums. In this capacity, Plaster advances original research and public scholarship by connecting faculty, students, and the larger Baltimore community to special collections of rare books, manuscripts, and archives at the Libraries and Museums.

Plaster conducts original research at archives and museums across Johns Hopkins University and interprets those collections through a variety of undergraduate courses, exhibitions, performances, and other collections-based innovations. His first large-scale project at JHU was the Peabody Ballroom Experience, a collaboration with Baltimore’s ballroom community, a performance-based art culture comprising gay, lesbian, trans, and gender non-conforming people of color. Other projects include a youth-led course archiving the history of Baltimore’s black arts and entertainment district and an Engaged Humanities public speaker series.

Plaster completed his PhD in American Studies at Yale University with a Certificate in Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies. His research and teaching focus on public humanities, performance studies, oral history, and queer studies. Plaster’s work has appeared in Radical History Review, The Public Historian, and Kalfou: A Journal of Comparative and Relational Ethnic Studies, and has been supported by grants from the National Endowment for the Humanities and fellowships at the New York Public Library and the Graduate Center of the City University of New York. His current book project, under contract with Duke University Press, combines archival, ethnographic, and oral history research to explore the social worlds that abandoned and runaway queer street youth, their patrons, and their protectors have created over the past century in San Francisco’s Tenderloin district.

At Johns Hopkins, Plaster is a lecturer in the Program in Museums and Society and an assistant research scholar at the Alexander Grass Humanities Institute.


  • 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

Selected Presentations


Invited Talks

  • “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.

Selected Publications

  • “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.

Courses teaching/taught

  • 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.

Professional memberships/activities

  • 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.