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Cornell University Library

Human Sexuality Collection, Division of Rare and Manuscript Collections

Collection Profile

Thanks to the Human Sexuality Collection (HSC), people touring Cornell University Library's Division of Rare and Manuscript Collections may view Dutch wanted posters for sodomites issued in 1730, an 1826 letter from lesbian couple Eleanor Butler and Sarah Ponsonby, postcards of turn-of-the-century German transvestite performers, a 1930s photograph of two women in rural Michigan kissing, the diary of a gay man with AIDS, or contemporary trade cards advertising prostitutes in London.

Cornell University Library's Human Sexuality Collection was established with gifts from David B. Goodstein, longtime publisher of the Advocate, and Bruce Voeller, scientist and early leader of the National Gay Task Force. The two activists formed a friendship out of their mutual desire to combat misinformation and fears about sexuality. Both believed that society would benefit from increased research on sexuality's cultural and political contexts. Cornell embraced this mission with the establishment of the Human Sexuality Collection in 1988.

Voeller contributed the Mariposa Education and Research Foundation library. Founded to promote scholarship and public education about sexuality, one of Mariposa's contributions was its study of the effectiveness of various kinds of condoms in preventing the transmission of sexually transmitted diseases. Its library provided a tremendous collection of rare books going back to the sexologists of the 19th century and documenting the emergence of gay male erotica in the 1950s, nudism in the 1960s, and sexual liberation, gay liberation, and lesbian feminism in the 1970s. Its manuscript material traced the development of the gay rights movement in the United States and early responses to the AIDS epidemic.

An advisory committee of activists and scholars determined how Cornell could best help document important historical shifts in society's view of sexuality. These advisors recommended searching for topics that have stirred public controversy over time. Cornell has focused on issues and people that are outside the mainstream or not well represented in the historical record, including the voices of African-Americans and Latinos.

The Human Sexuality Collection is now especially strong on the US lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender rights (LGBT) movements, personal experiences of AIDS, lesbian and gay literature and publishing, transgender and intersex history, the politics of pornography and prostitution, and changing notions of proper courtship and deviant sexuality. HSC has collected and made accessible the records of most national LGBT organizations, including the largest, the Human Rights Campaign (HRC). In February 2007, Cornell opened to researchers the HRC records and an online exhibit highlighting 60 years of LGBT activism.

Carrying on Goodstein and Voeller's vision, HSC's ultimate goal is to encourage research on the many important and compelling topics related to sexuality. Tours, symposia, and frequent class presentations help bring the collection to the attention of potential users. Phil Zwickler Memorial Research Grants assist scholars traveling to use the collection.

Collection Profile: Brenda J. Marston
Illustrations: Rhea Garen

More About This Collection

Exhibition: http://rmc.library.cornell.edu/HRC/

Research Guide: http://www.library.cornell.edu/olinuris/ref/fgss.html

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