glbtq: an encyclopedia of gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender & queer culture
social sciences
special features
about glbtq


   member name
   Forgot Your Password?  
Not a Member Yet?  

  Advertising Opportunities
  Permissions & Licensing
  Terms of Service
  Privacy Policy





social sciences

Alpha Index:  A-B  C-F  G-K  L-Q  R-S  T-Z

Subjects:  A-E  F-L  M-Z

Oral History  
page: 1  2  3  

"When you first came out, did you get any advice from others on how to act? Did you try to emulate anyone else?" can reveal shared values and unwritten codes of conduct. "Did you know of anyone who had a bad reputation in the community? If so, for what?" can reveal social forces that undermined cohesion.

Try to get past commonly held stereotypes. If a narrator says, "We were all butch or femme back then," diplomatically inquire if this was true of everyone or just those in the narrator's social circle. If some did not conform, were they from a different social background? The answers might reveal community divisions in effect at the time and indicate other groups to interview.

Sponsor Message.

If a story sounds like an urban legend, politely ask if the narrator directly experienced or witnessed the incident(s), or heard about them from someone else. As you gain experience you will start to recognize patterns of popular assumptions.

For example, in inquires into Seattle's 1950s bar culture, narrators often mention a blue law stipulating that people could be arrested for not wearing at least three items of gender-appropriate clothing. We have found no record of such a law, but the fact that many believed this to be so no doubt influenced how they dressed for an evening at the bars.

Avoid outing or defaming identifiable third parties. Likewise, avoid discussions that jeopardize anyone's legal or professional status--for example, on use of illegal drugs or clandestine entry into the country. If these are essential elements of the narrator's account, she or he might consider using a pseudonym or sealing the records until a later time.

Legal Releases

In the United States, to publish people's words you need their signed permission. This requires establishing trust with narrators and apprising them, as best as you can, of what will be done with the tapes and transcripts. The Rainbow History Project and the Northwest Lesbian and Gay History Museum Project provide samples of their wordings online.

Some narrators might impose restrictions on use of the interview. Common ones include not using names of third parties mentioned, or not divulging certain information until a given number of years have passed. In the latter case, use an edited transcript until the specified time has elapsed. It is helpful to have a relationship with a library or archive that has procedures in place for administering such requests.

Avoid making agreements that require you to keep requesting permission for subsequent uses of the material. The narrator might move and be impossible to locate, or pass away without leaving clear instructions.


Send letters of thanks to narrators, and keep them informed of events and milestones the project has reached. If a publication results, make sure they get complimentary copies.

You still have much work to do: copying tapes, "logging" (listing) their contents, getting them transcribed, "auditing" (proofreading) the transcripts. Do not let such details discourage you; the work is vital and priceless. At the advent of the twenty-first century, the survivors of the pre-liberation era are in their 70s and 80s, and there is a limited window of time left in which to record a meaningful first-person account of their culture.

Ruth M. Pettis

  <previous page   page: 1  2  3    

Contact Us
Join the Discussion
Related Entries
More Entries by this contributor
A Bibliography on this Topic

Citation Information
More Entries about Social Sciences

   Related Entries
social sciences >> Overview:  Butch-Femme

Butch-femme identities are controversial and difficult to define with precision, but both roles subvert prescribed gender and sexual expectations; ultimately, the butch-femme dynamic is a unique way of living and loving.

social sciences >> Overview:  Libraries and Archives

Libraries and archives have been the sources of information crucial to the difficult process of identity formation and have been significant repositories for the restoration and reconstruction of queer history.

social sciences >> Stonewall Riots

The confrontations between police and demonstrators at the Stonewall Inn in New York City the weekend of June 27-29, 1969 mark the beginning of the modern glbtq movement for equal rights.


Adair, Peter. Word Is Out: Stories of Some of Our Lives: Conversations with 26 Gay Men and Women. Mariposa Film Group. New York: New Yorker Video, 1992.

Atkins, Gary L. Gay Seattle: Stories of Exile and Belonging. Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2003.

Bayer, Ronald, and Gerald M. Oppenheimer. AIDS Doctors: Voices from the Epidemic--An Oral History. New York: Oxford University Press, 2000.

Baylor University Institute for Oral History.

Bérubé, Allan. Coming Out Under Fire: The History of Gay Men and Women in World War Two. New York: Free Press, 1990.

Brown, Michael. Replacing Citizenship: AIDS Activism and Radical Democracy. New York: Guilford Press, 1997.

Chauncey, George. Gay New York: Gender, Urban Culture, and the Making of the Gay Male World, 1890-1940. New York: Basic Books, 1994.

Gay and Lesbian Archive of the Pacific Northwest.

Gershick, Zsa Zsa. Gay Old Girls. Los Angeles: Alyson, 1998.

GLBT Historical Society.

Hall-Carpenter Archives.

The History Project.

Isay, David. "Remembering Stonewall." New York: Sound Portraits, 1990.

Kaiser, Charles. The Gay Metropolis, 1940-1996. New York: Houghton Mifflin, 1997.

Kennedy, Elizabeth Lapovsky, and Madeline D. Davis. Boots of Leather, Slippers of Gold: The History of a Lesbian Community. New York: Routledge, 1993.

Kissen, Rita M. The Last Closet: The Real Lives of Lesbian and Gay Teachers. Portsmouth, N. H.: Heinemann, 1996.

Marcus, Eric. Making History: The Struggle for Gay and Lesbian Equal Rights, 1945-1990: An Oral History. New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 1992.

Mongrovejo, Norma. Un amor que se atrevió a decir su nombre: La lucha de las lesbianas y su relación con los movimientos homosexual y feminista en América Latina. San Rafael, Mexico: Plaza y Valdes Editores, 2000.

Morris, Bonnie J. Eden Built by Eves: The Culture of Women's Music Festivals. Los Angeles: Alyson Books, 1999.

Nardi, Peter, David Sanders, and Judd Marmor. Growing Up before Stonewall. London and New York: Routledge, 1994.

Northwest Lesbian and Gay History Museum Project.

Paulson, Don, with Roger Simpson. An Evening at the Garden of Allah: A Gay Cabaret in Seattle. New York: Columbia University Press, 1996.

Pettis, Ruth, ed. Mosaic 1: Life Stories--From Isolation to Community. Seattle: NWLGHMP, 2002.

Power, Lisa. No Bath but Plenty of Bubbles: An Oral History of the Gay Liberation Front, 1970-73. London and New York: Cassell, 1995.

The Rainbow History Project of Washington, D. C.

Ramos, Juanita. Compañeras: Latina lesbians. New York: Latina Lesbian History Project, 1987.

Riordon, Michael. Out Our Way: Gay and Lesbian Life in the Country. Toronto: Between the Lines, 1996.

Rothon, Robert, and Myron Plett. "Tides of Men: A Documentary on the Lives of Gay Men in British Columbia, 1936 to the Present."

Sears, James T. Lonely Hunters: An Oral History of Lesbian and Gay Southern Life, 1948-1968. Boulder, Colo.: Westview Press, 1997.

Stein, Marc. City of Sisterly & Brotherly Loves: Lesbian and Gay Philadelphia, 1945-1972. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000.

Terkel, Studs, ed. The Good War: An Oral History of World War Two. New York: New Press, 1997.

University of California, Berkeley Library, Regional Oral History Office.

Wat, Eric C. The Making of a Gay Asian Community: An Oral History of Pre-AIDS Los Angeles. Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield, 2002.


    Citation Information
    Author: Pettis, Ruth M.  
    Entry Title: Oral History  
    General Editor: Claude J. Summers  
    Publication Name: glbtq: An Encyclopedia of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual,
Transgender, and Queer Culture
    Publication Date: 2004  
    Date Last Updated February 12, 2004  
    Web Address  
    Publisher glbtq, Inc.
1130 West Adams
Chicago, IL   60607
    Today's Date  
    Encyclopedia Copyright: © 2002-2006, glbtq, Inc.  
    Entry Copyright © 2004, glbtq, inc.  


This Entry Copyright © 2004, glbtq, inc. is produced by glbtq, Inc., 1130 West Adams Street, Chicago, IL   60607 glbtq™ and its logo are trademarks of glbtq, Inc.
This site and its contents Copyright © 2002-2006, glbtq, Inc.  All Rights Reserved.
Your use of this site indicates that you accept its Terms of Service.