Joseph Plaster

Joseph Plaster

Curator in Public Humanities, Sheridan Libraries and Museums

PhD, Yale University (American Studies)
Curriculum Vitae
Personal Website

Dr. Joseph Plaster is Curator in Public Humanities for the Sheridan Libraries and an Assistant Research Scholar at the Alexander Grass Humanities Institute. His research and teaching focuses on collaborative public humanities, performance studies, interdisciplinary oral history, and queer studies. His current book project, under contract with Duke University Press, combines archival, ethnographic, and oral history research to explore the social worlds that abandoned and runaway queer street youth, their patrons, and their protectors have created over the past century in San Francisco’s Tenderloin district. It investigates the social trauma inflicted on marginally housed youth and the ways they have worked, collectively and creatively, to reinterpret those realities through religious ritual, performative storytelling, and queer kinship networks.

As Curator in Public Humanities, Plaster conducts original research at archives and museums across Johns Hopkins University and interprets those collections through a variety of undergraduate courses and collections-based innovations. He is currently working on the Peabody Ballroom Experience, a collaboration between Johns Hopkins and Baltimore’s ballroom community, a performance-based art culture comprising gay, lesbian, and transgender people of color. Other projects include a youth workshop archiving the history of Pennsylvania Avenue, Baltimore’s black arts and entertainment district, and an “Engaged Humanities” public speaker series.

Plaster completed his PhD in American Studies at Yale University with a Certificate in Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies. His work has appeared in Radical History Review and will appear in forthcoming issues of The Public Historian and Kalfou: A Journal of Comparative and Relational Ethnic Studies.

Courses Taught:

  • Lecturer, Johns Hopkins University, "Queer & Trans Public History"
  • Lecturer, Johns Hopkins University, “Sharing Knowledge: Participatory Archives, Collaborative Oral History, and Social Justice,” Fall 2019.
  • Lecturer, Yale University American Studies Department, “Interdisciplinary Approaches to Oral History Narrative,” Fall 2016.
  • Lecturer, Yale University American Studies Department, “Public Humanities and Social Justice,” Spring 2017.
  • Lecturer, Yale University American Studies Department, “Queer/Trans Performativity,” Spring 2017.
  • Teaching Fellow, “Race, Class, and Gender in American Cities,” Yale University, Fall 2017.
  • Teaching Fellow, “U.S. Lesbian and Gay History,” Yale University, Fall 2013.
  • Performative Economies: The Survival of Queer Street Youth in San Francisco’s Tenderloin, under contract, Duke University Press
  • “Safe for Whom? And Whose Families? Narrative, Gentrification, and Queer Oral Histories of San Francisco’s Polk Street,” forthcoming in The Public Historian, May 2020.
  • “Black Queer Performance in Baltimore’s ‘Cathedral of Books,’” The Abusable Past, digital venue for the Radical History Review, Oct 2019.
  • “The Peabody Ballroom Experience,” International Work, USA, Oral History, Autumn 2019.
  • “Imagined Conversations and Activist Lineages: Public Histories of Queer Homeless Youth Organizing in San Francisco’s Tenderloin,” Radical History Review Issue 113, May 2012.
  • Co-editor (with Megan Rohrer) of Vanguard Revisited: The Queer Faith, Sex & Politics of the Youth of San Francisco’s Tenderloin (San Francisco, CA: Wilgefortis, 2016.)
  • “Polk Street: Lives in Transition,” commissioned by the Graduate Center of the City University of New York’s OutHistory Project, published online, Apr. 2009.
  • “Behind the Masks: GLBT Life at Oberlin College,” thesis-length historical narrative written under the direction of Prof. Carol Lasser, 2001, revised 2007.

Public Humanities Projects

Director, The Peabody Ballroom Experience, Oct 2018-present

Launched collaboration between Johns Hopkins University and Baltimore’s ballroom community, a performance-based culture comprising gay, lesbian, trans, and gender non-conforming people of color. Components include film screenings, panel discussions, dance workshops, oral histories, a documentary film, and a culminating ball competition.

Essays and Media Coverage:

  • Ten-minute film produced by the Hopkins Film & Media Studies MA program.
  • Joseph Plaster, “Black Queer Performance in Baltimore’s ‘Cathedral of Books,’” The Abusable Past, digital venue for the Radical History Review, Oct 2019.
  • Ballroom Blitz,” Johns Hopkins HUB, Oct. 15, 2019.
  • No Glitter Allowed: Ballroom 101,” Bmore Art, Apr. 18, 2019.

Director, San Francisco ACT UP Oral History Project, July 2017-July 2018

Designed project chronicling San Francisco’s AIDS direct action movement. Outcomes include oral histories with more 40 ACT UP veterans; exhibition at the GLBT History Museum; multimedia Internet presence.

Media Coverage: “Saving the Stories of San Francisco’s ACT UP Heroes,” The Advocate, Aug 18, 2017.

Director, Vanguard Revisited, Jan. 2010-June 2011.

Designed project through which San Francisco’s homeless LGBTQ youth documented and interpreted the legacy of 1960s street youth organizing. Outcomes included youth-produced historical zine; walking tours; street theater reenactments; intergenerational discussions; national speaking tour of homeless youth shelters and faith communities.

Essays and Media Coverage:

Director, Polk Street: Lives in Transition, Oct. 2007-Dec. 2009.

Interpreted more than seventy oral histories and archival research in relation to gentrification and conflict on San Francisco’s Polk Street. Outcomes included historical narrative commissioned by the Center for Lesbian and Gay Studies at CUNY; multimedia exhibit; professionally mediated neighborhood dialogues; oral history “listening parties” and other public events; hour-long radio documentary distributed nationally via NPR.

Media Coverage:

  • Oral Histories Tell Polk Street’s Story,” San Francisco Chronicle, Aug 8, 2009.
  • “Profile in Ministry: Expanding the Definition of an LGBT Advocate,” Human Rights Campaign Newsletter, March 4, 2009.
  • “Polk Street Profiles,” KALW’s Crosscurrents radio program, Jun 24, 2009.
  • “The Changing Face of Polk Street, Pictured,” San Francisco Bay Guardian, Dec. 30, 2008.

Director, Oberlin College LGBT Oral History Project, July 2005-Jun. 2007.

Interpreted more than seventy oral histories through thesis-length paper and permanent, multimedia archive. Website maintained by the college and used as a teaching resource in Oberlin classrooms.

Media Coverage: “Out of the Past: Oberlin Graduate Joey Plaster takes Steps to Record and Preserve Oberlin’s LGBT History,” Oberlin Alumni Magazine, Winter 2008.

Radio Documentary and Oral History:

  • Polk Street Stories,” hour-long oral history piece distributed nationally via NPR’s HearingVoices, Jun. 21, 2010. Adapted for the stage and produced by Georgetown University’s Mask and Bauble Dramatic Society in 2013.
  • “Re-Interviewing the San Francisco Street Patrol,” audio piece commissioned by “OUT/LOOK & The Birth of The Queer: Today’s Artists and Writers Respond,” University of California Santa Cruz Arts Research Institute, Fall 2017.
  • Brooklyn Historical Society, Brooklyn School of Inquiry Project, Jan. 2012-present. For three successive years, recorded “life histories” from roughly three hundred precocious six-year-olds.
  • LGBT Family Histories Project, Yale Research Initiative on the History of Sexualities, Summer 2012. Conducted oral histories with leaders of the GLBT families movement in New York, Los Angeles, and San Francisco.
  • “Growing Home Community Garden,” Project Homeless Connect, San Francisco, 2011. Commissioned to create audio portraits of six homeless participants.
  • Polk Gulch: the Story of Corey Longseeker,” radio documentary distributed via KALW’s Crosscurrents, Oct. 1, 2009.

Exhibit Curation:  

  • Curator, Reigning Queens: Roz Joseph’s Lost Photos, Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender Historical Society Museum, San Francisco, Oct. 2015-Feb 2016.
  • Co-curator, Our Vast Queer Past: Celebrating GLBT History, Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender Historical Society Museum, San Francisco, Aug. 2010.
  • Co-curator, Polk Street: Lives in Transition, Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender Historical Society main gallery, San Francisco, Jan. 2009-Aug. 2009.
  • Co-curator, Passionate Struggle: Dynamics of San Francisco’s GLBT History, Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender Historical Society Museum, San Francisco, 2008.