Devor Wilson – Question 2
2In what ways is your organization, or your role, radical? In what ways is it not?
Professor of Sociology, Founder and Academic Director of the Transgender Archives – University of Victoria
Director of Special Collections and University Archivist – University of Victoria
¶ 1 Leave a comment on paragraph 1 0 The Transgender Archives is the world’s largest collection of records of trans* activism and research. We hold 320 linear feet (98 meters) of materials from seventeen countries around the world, mostly concentrated on North America and the United Kingdom. The fact that it is exclusively devoted to trans* collections makes it a rarity; most collections of trans* materials are either within LGBTQ+ or sexuality collections, and occasionally women’s collections. While we do not usually think of ourselves as “radical,” nor did we originally conceive of our work as a radical project, it would not be a stretch to think of the Transgender Archives as a radical project in the ways that we have described in the first question. Trans* people have certainly been deeply marginalized in society, and the records of trans* activism and research have remained largely uncollected by formal archives.
¶ 2 Leave a comment on paragraph 2 0 The Transgender Archives is part of the Special Collections and University Archives at the University of Victoria Libraries, which also holds a Women’s Movement Archives and an Anarchist Archives, among others. As such, it enjoys all of the benefits of having the institutional support that a large, research-intensive public university offers, and it shares the shelves with other archives that could also be said to be somewhat radical. Being part of a world-class institution of higher education means that significant resources afford us luxuries not available to other radical archives. It also means that we are subject to a large bureaucracy and vulnerable to possible changes in priorities with changes in leadership, or in response to shifting demands of governments or major donors.
¶ 3 Leave a comment on paragraph 3 0 The materials in our archives have come to us almost entirely as gifts from private collectors. The bulk of the contents have come from three major collections. Private collections reflect certain realities about the collectors. In order to amass a significant collection of historical materials, one must have enough money to purchase items, enough space to store them, and enough housing stability to preserve them. Furthermore, people collect what interests them and what is available to them. In the trans* world, as in much of the rest of society, this means that what has been created in the first place, and what has subsequently been collected, largely reflects the experiences of middle-class white people assigned as males at birth. In this, our archives cannot claim to be particularly radical. To be a trans* archives is radical, but we could do more to be radical within that sphere.