La Trobe
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Defying description: searching for queer history in institutional archives

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journal contribution
posted on 2023-05-30, 03:26 authored by Elliot FreemanElliot Freeman

Abstract: There are numerous obstacles to overcome when conducting queer historical research. While has been a steady increase in work to address the (in)visibility of queer histories and perspectives in institutional heritage collections, this work is often skewed towards outputs such as exhibitions or social media posts. As a result, very little work has been done to interrogate and transform the ways that these materials are managed and made accessible (or not). This paper considers how the lack of rich and explicit descriptive metadata shapes the (in)visibility and (in)accessibility of queer records within institutional archives. It reports the findings of a series of qualitative interviews I conducted with individuals who have searched for queer materials in archival collections in Australia. These interviews explored the practical process of searching for queer records in institutional archives; how researchers identify, locate, and access these records; and the challenges of this process—both in terms of a research methodology, and an experience for queer researchers within potentially hostile or unsafe spaces.


Open Access funding enabled and organized by CAUL and its Member Institutions. This research was supported by an Australian Government Research Training Program Scholarship.


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Archival Science

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Springer Nature B.V.



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© The Author(s) 2023. This article is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, which permits use, sharing, adaptation, distribution and reproduction in any medium or format, as long as you give appropriate credit to the original author(s) and the source, provide a link to the Creative Commons licence, and indicate if changes were made. The images or other third party material in this article are included in the article's Creative Commons licence, unless indicated otherwise in a credit line to the material. If material is not included in the article's Creative Commons licence and your intended use is not permitted by statutory regulation or exceeds the permitted use, you will need to obtain permission directly from the copyright holder. To view a copy of this licence, visit

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