Date of Award

December 2017

Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)




Jackie Orr


archives, community, lesbian, queer

Subject Categories

Social and Behavioral Sciences


The Lesbian Herstory Archives is the oldest and largest lesbian archives in the

world. This dissertation project examines the role of this community archive in

building, defining, redefining, and sustaining community over time. More

specifically, this dissertation seeks to explore the relationship between queer

archives and community through the following research questions:

1. How does the act of archiving produce community?

2. How does a community archive and project of collective memory, rooted

in a specific identity, respond to a radically shifting socio-political


3. In what ways does the deployment of community produce boundaries of

inclusion and exclusion?

Drawing from interviews, participant observation, and archival research, this study

explores how the changing Archives community mirrors the shifting socio-political

climate of the United States. Special attention is paid to how the rhetoric of

community is deployed by the Lesbian Herstory Archives in order to secure needed

resources. Research findings suggest that the power of this rhetoric might be

diminished over time as lesbian identity has become less salient and increasingly

critiqued. Relatedly, this study reveals how, despite the best intentions of the

organization’s founders, the rhetoric of community adopted by the Lesbian Herstory

Archives has often relied on a falsely homogenizing understanding of community

that is based on a universal lesbian identity construction, leading to exclusions

based on race, class, and gender identity. Despite this fact, it is argued that this

notion of community, while ambiguous and ripe for criticism, can be a powerful tool

to mobilize individuals and groups.


Open Access