The Vincent Astor Collection

A hand resting above an open card catalogue
Much of the Vincent Astor collection is housed in the Memphis Room at the Benjamin L. Hooks Central Library.

Hidden History

Three repositories of periodicals and memorabilia belonging to Vincent Astor ’75, a longtime Memphis gay rights activist, are serving as ongoing resources for Rhodes students interested in LGBT issues, historical preservation, and public history. 

Astor contributed periodicals, including copies of Gaze, a newspaper dedicated to LGBT issues in Memphis published from 1979 until 1990, to OutMemphis and to Rhodes College. His personal papers and portions of his periodicals collection also went to the Benjamin L. Hooks Central Library. Through the Digital Preservation and Scholarship (DPS) programs and the Department of History’s archival fellowships, several Rhodes students have worked to catalog and digitize the collections in partnership with the library and OutMemphis.

DPS team members have been working to digitize the college’s collection of Gaze and to draw from the OutMemphis collection to fill in any gaps. The complete editions of Gaze are a crucial archive, says Dr. Charles Hughes, director of the Memphis Center.

Dr. Charles Hughes

Hughes teaches a class in the history of LGBT Memphis and is directing students, in collaboration with OutMemphis, in producing oral histories of key members of the Memphis LGBT community.

“The OutMemphis project blends our desire to preserve the past with continuing to work with a community partner,” says Hughes.

In addition to the DPS team, Department of History archival studies fellows have been working with the Astor collection. During the summer of 2016, two Rhodes history majors, Brad Bierdz ’18 and Maddie Kellas ’18, worked as archival studies summer fellows on the collection. Kellas continues her work currently with Dr. Hughes, collecting oral histories from members of the Memphis LGBT community. In fall 2016, Bierdz worked with OutMemphis to archive its Astor collection and assisted students in Hughes LGBT class in their research of these valuable primary sources. This spring, Cameron Sandlin ’19 assisted OutMemphis  in creating an online timeline of the city’s LGBT history in her role as an archival intern through the history department.

Now in its seventh year, the Department of History Archival Studies Summer Fellowships are paid experiences designed for students interested in pursuing careers in libraries and archives. Students spend several weeks working full time in the library, where they receive hands-on training in archival processing and document digitization.

“Prior to my participation in this fellowship, I was completely unaware of how information was made available to the public,” says Kellas. “This fellowship has taught me not to take education or resources for granted, something that I was guilty of doing in the past. I learned to appreciate and value the information that we have access to.”

The fellowship also is part of a new concentration in public history offered by the Rhodes Department of History. The concentration provides students with training in museum studies, library and archival studies, and historic preservation. Students in this program are well-suited to pursue graduate training and careers in the growing field of public history. “In addition to increasing the number of collections available for researchers, the archival studies fellowship provides us with the opportunity to pass on our knowledge of archival theory and practice to another generation,” says Wayne Dowdy, agency manager of the library's history department and Memphis and Shelby County Room.

“We are extremely proud of our relationship with the Memphis public library,” adds J.J. McComb Professor Jeffrey Jackson, history chair and director of the new concentration. “Wayne Dowdy and his staff have helped deepen the skills of so many of our students. Everyone who does an internship at the library is really transformed by the experience.”

— By Leanne Kleinmann