Jayden Dirk ’20 Conducts Research for the Gay and Lesbian Archives of the Pacific Northwest in Portland, OR

The scribblings of a city commissioner, clippings from an underground newspaper, and a handmade book from a hippie church. These objects are each different pieces of evidence and source material that I have delved up out of archives in Portland, Oregon during my internship as a researcher for the Gay and Lesbian Archives of the Pacific Northwest (more commonly referred to simply as GLAPN). I am conducting research and writing on the history of queer/LGBTQ+ youth in Portland during the second half of the twentieth century. The end goal of this internship is for me to produce an original journal article-length analysis of the history of queer youth in Portland, my hometown, to be published on the GLAPN website for broad public access.

This internship experience directly connects to my academics and career aspirations. As a rising junior History major who is deeply interested in social history of the United States, particularly gender history, this internship is certainly ideal for me. My time working for this internship so far has largely been spent conducting research in archives or in coffee shops on online databases, something that excites me and makes for a quick but fulfilling workday. After graduating from Whitman, I hope to eventually go on to get a PhD in History in order to teach and research American social and cultural history. This internship is an important step along this path, and will only help me get closer to my career and academic goals.

Over the last couple weeks, I have spent a lot of time in both the Oregon Historical Society archive and the City of Portland archive, both located just a few blocks away from each other in the heart of downtown Portland. Conducting research in an archive is a brand new experience for me, and is way different than the limited form of research that you can do just with online databases and published books from the library. The archives hold and preserve a ton of different documents, from diaries to newspapers to photos. Because preservation is of utmost importance, you have to fill out a form to request specific folders or boxes of documents, which are often organized around a single topic. The archivist then retrieves the requested items and gives them to you in a big reading room with wooden desks. From there, I look through the documents that I requested and skim through them. If anything that I deem important to my research comes up, I take a picture of the document and record its information in a Google sheet so that I can reference it if I want to use it once I go to write my article. The element of discovery that can make historical research so exciting is only heightened in the archives, since I am looking at documents that barely anyone else has looked at through brand new lenses focused on locating and analyzing queer youth within the historical record.

Besides the research element of my internship, I have also gotten to learn a lot more about community and public-oriented ways of doing history. GLAPN is a non-profit organization that runs exclusively on volunteers, all of whom are other queer historians, like myself. GLAPN is largely focused on both preserving queer history and presenting it to the public. Recently, I helped my supervisor, the GLAPN President, and another GLAPN member put up an exhibit in the Q Center, Portland’s main queer community center. The exhibit was an annual exhibit that GLAPN puts on for Pride month about local queer heroes who have done something to benefit some aspect of regional queer culture. The emphasis that GLAPN places on educating the public, particularly the local queer community is inspiring and deeply important, and is different from the ways that the Whitman History department goes about doing history.

Over the remaining two months of the summer, I will continue to do a lot of archival research on queer youth, but I will also be working on writing up the article itself, which no doubt will also be a challenging, but enriching experience.

Experiences like Jayden’s are made possible by the Whitman Internship Grant, which provides funding for students to participate in unpaid internships at both for-profit and non-profit organizations. To learn how you could secure a Whitman Internship Grant or host a Whitman intern at your organization, click here or contact Assistant Director for Internship Programs Victoria Wolff

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *