The United States of AIDS (USAIDS) is a student-led project sponsored by the Digital Humanities Initiative at The New School. The purpose of our project is to encourage awareness of, and research on, the history of the AIDS epidemic and of the community activism that was mobilized to fight the disease in the 1980s. The AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power (ACT UP) is our entry point, but we hope to include numerous groups and activisms as we expand.

 

Beginning in 1987, ACT UP fought for AIDS medical research, treatment, safe sex, medical care in prison, needle exchange programs, housing and shelter services. They successfully pressured politicians to reverse discriminatory policies and practices that stigmatized people living with HIV/AIDS. Its radical strategies for direct action, protest, and propaganda gave voice to communities — black, queer, trans*, poor, homeless — long marginalized by the government and the larger American culture.

 

Currently, our work emphasizes the oral histories of ACT UP members through a catalogue of interviews provided by Sarah Schulman and Jim Hubbard of the ACT UP Oral History Project (AUOHP). As former members of the group, their community history practice encourages the autobiographical memory of the interviewee and the interplay between interviewee and the interviewer that evokes a different social memory, one that strives to represent the group. This dynamic mix of individual and social memory has given our project ideal material to consider and organize and the need for a system that would provide robust indexing and accessabilty to the source material.

 

United States of AIDS utilizes the Oral History Metadata Synchronizer (OHMS), a tool that enhances both the usability of and access to oral histories. We have hosted entire interviews — transcript and recording — from the AUOHP for the first time, developed indexes that contextualize the interviews through the editing of segments addition of synopses, keywords, and links to archival material from research centers such as the New York Public Library and the Municipal Archives. In addition to OHMS, we provide short biographies of the activists and a timeline of the AIDS crisis. The future promises a collection of essays, in the tradition of Raymond Williams, that examines the keywords that recur in these interviews, allowing us to define and preserve the language that these histories require.

 

The founding directors are Guy Greenberg and Norma Juarez, alumni of the Bachelors Prorgam for Adults and Transfer Students, School of Undergraduate Studies, The New School. The project is supervised by Professor Claire Bond Potter, Professor of History at The New School, Co-Director of the Digital Humanities Initiative, and Co-Director at OutHistory.org