During his education as a librarian and archivist, reference librarian Jack Martin researched the existence of Queer history (or LGBTQIA+ history) in archives and collecting institutions like the History Room. We like to share items from our collections that relate to current events and national observances, but we found ourselves coming up short for Pride Month this June. Below, Jack reflects on why Queer history seems to be missing, and how we might make it more visible.
Why Isn’t There More Queer History in Archives?
It’s a question that has often been asked in recent years, both within the archival community and from outside it, and the answer is a fairly complicated one. The first part, which is perhaps the most obvious, is that, for the longest time, queer history simply wasn’t well documented, which poses a challenge to archives that work mainly to collect and preserve various kinds of documents. While there have always been queer individuals, historically many would have been reluctant to commit their identities to words for fear of persecution (or prosecution). There’s also the matter of items like marriage records, which attest to the legal marriage of a couple, but offer no indication of whether or not the match was actually a kind of lavender marriage (with the uncertainty having been the entire point). Additionally, the documentation of queer history that does exist tends to be of a negative, institutionalized slant. Some of the most abundant records concerning queer identities in previous centuries are arrest records from police raids on clubs and bathhouses. These records do little to tell us about the lives of the individuals or how they really expressed themselves, and instead document the history of prejudice more than anything else.
There also aspects of the problem that are more specific to archival practice though. Effective archiving requires effective cataloging, and effective cataloging requires the use of a controlled vocabulary. A ‘controlled vocabulary’ is a bit of library science jargon that essentially means a list of words members of the profession have agreed have specific meanings in the context of their work. If you remember old card catalogs, think of what a nightmare it would be if books on “vernal pools” and books on “swimming pools” were filed together under “pools”! While there have been some attempts to establish a reliable controlled vocabulary for terms related to LGBTQIA+ identities (such as the Homosaurus) these still present challenges. A significant aspect of celebrating LGBTQIA+ Pride is celebrating individual identities, and there are many individuals who reject or are opposed to certain labels. Even the use of ‘queer’ as an umbrella term for the whole spectrum of LGBTQIA+ identities is a bit of a contentious issue outside of academia.
We also run into issues with retroactively applying labels to individuals who did not or often could not have identified with a given term, and coupled with a lack of concrete documentation, we are often working off little more than hearsay anyway. This is an especially problematic issue for archives as institutions, as according to professional standards, the job of archivists is to preserve and provide access to materials, not to interpret them. Of course, ‘interpret’ is a pretty vague term and the line is often hazy. If we receive a letter wherein a man seems to be refer to another man as a romantic partner, but doesn’t explicitly refer to their relationship as being romantic, should we include a subject tag about homosexuality or queer identities in the catalog? Conventional ‘best practice’ for archiving would say that we shouldn’t, but there has been increasing pushback against these ideas. If we refuse to engage in any level of interpretation where minority identities are concerned, are we facilitating or participating in the erasure of queer history? Unfortunately, it’s a question that has no easy answer because it must always be followed up with, ‘How far would be too far?’
The purpose of sharing these challenges isn’t to try and make excuses for why our current resources concerning LGBTQIA+ history are rather lacking. Rather, we want to be open and honest about the challenges we’re facing in bringing this history to light and some of the questions we’re grappling with. It’s also something of an invitation to the community to offer input in the process. What are the best ways to handle this material sensitively? Is there a general consensus around what terms we should use or avoid? Are there materials documenting local queer history they’d be willing to share or like to see preserved? We would appreciate any input that could help us to make archives a more welcoming, inclusive space that document the full breadth of the human experience, rather than just what might be called the norm.
Thoughts? Questions? You can reach Jack through the History Room email, firstname.lastname@example.org.
The History Room is open! Visit us on the second floor of the library.
We are now open Monday through Thursday from noon to 4 p.m., and Saturday from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. We are closed on Fridays.
The History Room reference desk is staffed by Jill Piekut Roy and Jack Martin. We are so happy to welcome you back!
Sign up for the History Room Email List to learn about upcoming programs and events via occasional emails.
Irene Drago, local author and a trustee of Sagadahoc Preservation Inc., asked us to share this message about the third and final virtual tour offered by SPI this spring.
Dear Supporters of SPI,
Sagadahoc Preservation Inc. is delighted to offer Tour #3 of Opening Doors in Historic Bath for a $10 donation. We’re able to extend this offer because our previous tours have exceeded our expectations and one donor in particular was especially giving. In the throes of COVID-19, our online tours have kept us connected, and they’ve kept historic preservation moving forward. Thank you for supporting SPI! We sincerely hope you’ll join us for the last tour of the series on April 23–25.
For Alicia, Annie, and me, this has been an adventure to remember. We visited eleven homes, including a downtown loft, and two iconic buildings; and we captured a bit of history on film with the cooperation of their owners. Please join us online for our grand finale. Tour #3 will take you inside a Victorian home with a stunning view of the Sagadahoc Bridge, a Federal-style colonial that once belonged to John Patten, and a storied Italianate—built around an eighteenth-century home—made famous by Benjamin Packard, the renowned shipbuilder and founder of Bath Savings. And for our capstone tour, the president of SPI, Tim Brosnihan, takes us inside the rarely seen sanctuary of the Winter Street Church, including the bell tower. Tim will share the story of the Winter Street Center—its past, present, and future!
Visit https://www.sagadahocpreservation.org/opening-doors-in-historic-bath and request the link for Tour #3, April 23–25. You’ll receive the link via email on April 22.
Yours in preservation,
March is Women’s History Month! We shared items and collections from the History Room that illuminate women’s history in our communities in each issue of the library’s email newsletter (sign up here). See each week’s story below!
Historic building enthusiasts will be happy to learn that Sagadahoc Preservation Inc., our neighbors at Winter Street Center, will celebrate their 50th anniversary by offering virtual house tours in March.
Sagadahoc Preservation, Inc., kicks off the celebration of its 50th anniversary this year with a series of online guided tours of historic homes and landmarks in Bath, Maine. Hosted by SPI board member Irene Drago, Tour #1 (accessible March 19-21) focuses on four private residences located on Washington and Middle Streets. Viewers will be treated to architectural features, historical information and background stories about these beautiful homes. SPI is a longtime supporter of the Sagadahoc History & Genealogy Room.
The preservation organization was founded in 1971, first, to save the Winter Street Church from scheduled demolition and, second, to support the preservation of Bath’s distinctive architectural legacy increasingly threatened by loss.
For more information, see the event on the Sagadahoc Preservation Inc. website.
The Sagadahoc History and Genealogy Room announces the seventeenth annual Town History Series!
Speakers from Patten Free Library’s five member communities will present on aspects of their town’s history on five Saturday mornings in January and February.
On January 16, Nathan Lipfert will present Two Centuries of Working for Bath Customs. On January 23, Jack Carr will give the Maritime History of Arrowsic. On January 30, Jeanne McGowan of Georgetown will share the story of Captain Stin Davis….In His Own Words. West Bath’s Peter Stackpole will talk about his family’s One Hundred Years on Campbell Pond on February 6. On February 13, Rob Stevens will present Woolwich Men and the 1779 Penobscot Expedition.
The series will take place virtually on Zoom and air live on Bath Community Television at 10:30 AM.
For more information, contact Jill Piekut Roy, Archivist & Special Collections Librarian in the Sagadahoc History & Genealogy Room at email@example.com or 207-443-5141 ext 18.
All presentations begin at 10:30 am on Saturday. Stay tuned for more information about special follow-up sessions.
|January 16||Bath||Two Centuries of Working for Bath Customs||Nathan Lipfert|
|January 23||Arrowsic||Maritime History of Arrowsic||Jack Carr|
|January 30||Georgetown||Captain Stin Davis….In His Own Words||Jeanne McGowan|
|February 6||West Bath||One Hundred Years on Campbell Pond||Peter Stackpole|
|February 13||Woolwich||Woolwich Men and the 1779 Penobscot Expedition||Rob Stevens|
When Karen suggested doing a Zoom program back in March 2020, I had no idea what it would become. History Room Live has been such a joy to produce every week. We’re both going to miss seeing our patrons’ faces while we focus on bringing the 17th Annual Town History Series online.
We started in April with the idea that we could help patrons access local history and genealogy resources on the web while we were closed to the public. Karen, with her deep knowledge of genealogy databases, kicked off the series with a tour of Ancestry.com resources, then introduced us to the multitude of genealogy resources available on the web. Then, since the first week of the transition from my old job as cataloger to my new job as archivist was also National Postcard Week (May 3-9), I dug into our awesome postcard collections to share some highlights with you. We finished out the first month with Coffee Hour, a casual session which would soon become my favorite day of the month. (Watch recorded History Room Live presentations here.)
In the early days of the pandemic, it was nice to have something challenging to focus on. We brainstormed, studied, brought on guests, learned the ins and outs of PowerPoint, Zoom, and YouTube. At first, my number one goal was to know what next week’s topic would be by the time we started recording on Friday afternoon. Then, as we started getting the hang of things, I managed to slow down and recognize the faces in the audience. Some were faces of people I had already met in person, but many others had been strangers just a month or two before.
The best thing about making History Room Live this year has been meeting people from the community! It has been huge for me to be able to learn about the history of this place – during lockdown, no less! – from the experts who love it. Next best was learning from our guest presenters, Jack, Anna, Craig, Brenda, Tim, and Nathan—and from Karen, who has been a great collaborator.
Once the library reopened to the public in July, I had made some new friends. Some of them came in to do research, some became volunteers and correspondents, and some sent in materials to add to the collection. When we returned to curbside pickup in November, History Room Live was there to keep us connected.
I hope all of our History Room Live friends can join us on January 16 at 10:30 AM, when we kick off the Town History Series with Nathan Lipfert’s presentation Two Centuries of Working for Bath Customs.
Here’s what Karen has to say about History Room Live:
When Jill and I were planning and developing this program, some of my own personal goals for it were to provide a program for the community, connect with the community, and provide a way for you all to get to know your new archivist (and vice versa). All of those things happened, but there have been other results, too, that I hadn’t expected, though I probably should have. A few people are now volunteers and some of you have donated materials to the History Room. Best of all, we’ve had a lot of great conversations. Sometimes, it can be a challenge to get an audience to participate in programs, but we’ve never had to be concerned about that. In fact, I don’t think of you folks as an audience. I feel more like you’re all partners with us, sharing your own stories and expertise, asking great questions, and helping us better understand our communities and the people and places in them. You also don’t limit these conversations to this one hour; I know many of you reach out to Jill often, and one of you has even emailed me with resources, ideas, and general knowledge. I’ve enjoyed these weekly gatherings with all of you and I truly appreciate all your contributions to us, both personally and professionally. Thank you so much for helping us, and each other, survive this year and find some bit of joy.
When we resume History Room Live in the spring, I hope to welcome even more experts and local organizations who serve Sagadahoc County and Maine as a whole, to share current projects and research, collection highlights, special skills, or the history of their organization. Interested in presenting? Email Jill at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 207-443-5141 x18.
The Bath Historical Society issues a calendar every year to spread the word about Bath history. This year’s calendar honors Robin Haynes and Peter Goodwin after their retirement from Patten Free Library. Each month features one of Peter and Robin’s picks from the Sagadahoc History & Genealogy Room collections, representing their favorite events, places, and people of Bath, Maine.
The calendar will be available for sale at the Library Bookstore, Mockingbird Bookstore, Wilson’s Drug Store, Main Street Design, Lisa Marie’s Made in Maine & the Bath Sweet Shoppe. Unfortunately, the calendar will not be available for purchase at Patten Free Library during curbside-only service.
The Sagadahoc History & Genealogy Room at Patten Free Library thanks Bath Historical Society for their partial support, and for the work they do to preserve and share Bath’s unique history.
November is Native American Indian/Alaska Native Heritage Month. We’re honoring Maine’s indigenous peoples by learning more about the Native Americans who have lived in Sagadahoc County.
We’ll start by identifying books in our collection that focus on indigenous history at a local level. Next, we’ll share tips for finding other books about indigenous history on a regional and national level. Finally, we’ll share links to a few online resources.
Baker, Emerson W. “The Clarke & Lake Site, 1654-1676: A Place of Trading as Well as Planting.” Thesis (M.A.) in History. University of Maine, 1983.
Cranmer, Leon E. Cushnoc: The History and Archaeology of Plymouth Colony Traders on the Kennebec. Augusta, Me.: Maine Archaeological Society: Fort Western Museum: Maine Historic Preservation Commission, c1990.
Congdon, Isabelle P. Indian Tribes of Maine : With Particular Reference to Indian Activities in the Regions around the Present Locations of Bath and Brunswick. Brunswick, Me. : Brunswick Publishing Co., 1961.
Sewall, Rufus King. Ancient Dominions of Maine: Embracing the Earliest Facts, the Recent Discoveries, of the Remains of Aboriginal Towns, the Voyages, Settlements, Battle Scenes, and Incidents of Indian Warfare, and Other Incidents of History, Together With the Religious Developments of Society Within the Ancient Sagadahoc, Sheepscot, and Pemaquid Precincts and Dependencies. Bath : Elisha Clark & Co. ; Boston : Crosby & Nichols, 1859.
Shute, Samuel. “Georgetown on Arrowsic Island, Aug. 9th 1717. Annoque regni regis Georg II magnae Britanniae &c. quarto. A confession of hs excellency the governour, with the sachems and cheif men of the eastern Indians.” In Collections of the Maine Historical Society. Vol. 3 (1853), p.361-375.
American Friends Service Committee Wabanaki Program. The Wabanakis of Maine & the Maritimes: A Resource Book by and About About Penobscot, Passamaquoddy, Maliseet, Micmac, and Abenaki Indians: With Extensive Resources for All Educational Levels Including Sample Lesson Plans. Philadelphia, PA : Wabanaki Program of the American Friends Service Committee, 2002, c1989.
Brooks, Lisa Tanya. Our Beloved Kin: A New History of King Philip’s War. New Haven : Yale University Press, 2018.
The following websites from across Maine are portals to learning more about the state’s indigenous heritage.
Ancestral Voices “This first presentation in the Ancestral Voices project is the result of a collaborative venture among the AFC, the Passamaquoddy Tribe of Maine, and the creators of TK Labels and Mukurtu CMS. Passamaquoddy elders have provided cultural narratives and added traditional knowledge about Passamaquoddy recordings, which were spoken in a French-influenced dialect of the Passamaquoddy language in 1890.”
Indigenous Law Web Archive “(The Law Library) collects and preserves primary law sources of indigenous nations, which are sovereign governments by treaty with the United States.”
Maine Memory Network Holding up the Sky exhibit
Penobscot Nation Information and sources for tribal members, also includes some information on Cultural and Historic Preservation.
Passamaquoddy People Knowledge Portal “This website is a glimpse of our rich cultural traditions and history. It will allow future generations of Passamaquoddy to learn about OUR STORY in OUR WORDS.” A project involving wax cylinder recordings expanded into this website which is used as a way to share the language and culture as the Passamaquoddy choose to share them.
Passamaquoddy-Maliseet Language Portal “The Portal is designed as a resource for language learning and research.”
Resources for Truth, Healing and Change in Wabanaki Territory from Maine-Wabanaki Reach
Wabanaki Collections “The Wabanaki Collection connects postsecondary educators, grade school teachers, and the general public with a variety of resources that support enhanced relationships between all the peoples of Eastern Canada and Northeastern United States.”
If you aren’t going door to door for candy this Halloween, you can still Trick-or-Treat down the streets of Bath as they were 100 years ago with the Confectionery Challenge! A confectionery is also known as a candy store. Yum!
Here are the rules:
*Read on to learn how to find and use the 1919 Bath Sanborn Maps.
Want more candy? Repeat with the 1890, 1891, 1896, 1903, 1909, and 1950 maps!
Sanborn Maps are a candy-colored key to the way our towns looked 100 years ago. Before they became a treat for historians, they were used by insurance agents to assess fire risk for the property they insured. They were published irregularly. For Bath, maps exist between 1890 and 1919. Plus, the Library of Congress has a 1919 copy that was updated through 1950 as the city changed.
The maps’ color code indicates what each building was made out of. Pink is cinnamon and yellow is vanilla. Wait… I mean pink is brick and yellow is wood! (Bonus points for figuring out what blue and green stand for.)
The Library of Congress has digitized Sanborn Maps for hundreds of cities and towns across the country.
The maps were originally published in books. The first page shows which part of town you’ll find on each page. There is also an index by street.
Have fun wandering around the city! Remember, there are at least four confectioneries in 1919. Let us know if you find more at email@example.com and enjoy your confections!