Joseph Plaster

Joseph Plaster

Director, Tabb Center & Curator in Public Humanities
Curriculum Vitae
Personal Website

Education: PhD, Yale University (American Studies)

Dr. Joseph Plaster is Curator in Public Humanities and Director of the Winston Tabb Special Collections Research Center for the Sheridan Libraries & University Museums. In this capacity, he cultivates an exchange of knowledge between the university and greater Baltimore community through participatory action research, oral history initiatives, performance, and courses taught through the Program in Museums and Society. His research and teaching combine archival, oral history, and public humanities methods to examine the world-making practices of marginalized publics in the United States, with a focus on intersections of gender, sexuality, and race.

Plaster is the author of Kids on the Street: Queer Kinship and Religion in San Francisco’s Tenderloin (Feb 2023, Duke University Press). Kids on the Street explores the informal support networks that enabled abandoned and runaway queer youth to survive in tenderloin districts across the United States, and San Francisco's Tenderloin in particular, over the past century. Drawing on archival, ethnographic, oral history, and public humanities research, Plaster outlines the kinship networks, syncretic religious practices, storytelling traditions, and migratory patterns that allowed kids to foster forms of mutual aid. By highlighting a politics where the marginal position of street youth is the basis for a moral economy of reciprocity, Plaster excavates a history of queer life that has been overshadowed by major narratives of gay progress and pride. Plaster’s academic writing has also appeared in Radical History ReviewThe Public HistorianThe Abusable PastKalfou, and GLQ: A Journal of Lesbian and Gay Studies.

Plaster’s public humanities projects bring together diverse publics—including curators, archivists, artists, and activists—as partners in research and education. He is the recipient of the National Council on Public History’s 2023 Outstanding Public History Project Award for the Peabody Ballroom Experience, an ongoing collaboration with the queer and trans artists of color who animate Baltimore’s ballroom scene. As part of the faculty team for Inheritance Baltimore: Humanities and Arts Education for Black Liberation, Plaster develops community-based oral history projects focused on trans of color experience. Additionally, he was awarded the American Historical Association’s Allan Bérubé Prize for Polk Street: Lives in Transition, a project that drew on more than seventy original oral histories to intervene in debates about gentrification, homelessness, queer politics, and public safety in the highly polarized setting of gentrifying San Francisco.

Courses Taught:

  • Lecturer, Johns Hopkins University, program in Museums and Society, "Public Humanities and Social Justice," Fall 2023.
  • Lecturer, Johns Hopkins University, Program for the Study of Women, Gender, and Sexuality, "Queer Performativity," Spring 2023.
  • Lecturer, Johns Hopkins University, "Queer Oral History," Spring 2022.
  • Lecturer, Johns Hopkins University, "Queer Sixties," Spring 2021.
  • Lecturer, Johns Hopkins University, "Queer & Trans Public History," Spring 2020.
  • 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.


  • Kids on the Street: Queer Kinship and Religion in San Francisco’s Tenderloin, February 2023, Duke University Press
  • 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, August 2016.)

Articles and Book Chapters

  • “‘Homosexuals in Adolescent Rebellion:’ Central City Uprisings during the Long Sixties,” GLQ: A Journal of Lesbian and Gay Studies, April 2023.
  • “Race, Sexuality, and U.S. Culture Wars,” Public History Weekly, Open Peer Review, November 2022.
  • “The Category Is: Opulence! Performing Black Queer History in Baltimore’s ‘Cathedral of Books,’” Kalfou: A Journal of Comparative and Relational Ethnic Studies, November 2020.
  • “Safe for Whom? And Whose Families? Narrative, Gentrification, and Queer Oral Histories of San Francisco’s Polk Street,” forthcoming in The Public Historian, August 2020.
  • “Black Queer Performance in Baltimore’s ‘Cathedral of Books,’” The Abusable Past, digital venue for the Radical History Review, October 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.
  • “LGBT Pride Parade: A History,” commissioned by the University of California's Calisphere Project, published online, 2011.
  • “Polk Street: Lives in Transition,” commissioned by the Graduate Center of the City University of New York’s OutHistory Project, published online, April 2009.
  • “The Rise and Fall of a Polk Street Hustler,” San Francisco Bay Guardian cover story, March 18, 2009.
  • “Behind the Masks: GLBT Life at Oberlin College,” thesis-length historical narrative written under the direction of Prof. Carol Lasser, 2001, revised 2007.
  • “Importing Injustice: Deregulation and the Port of Oakland’s Neighbors,” San Francisco Bay Guardian cover story, July 18, 2007.
  • “The Ruckus Society at a Crossroads,” Z Magazine, Feb 12, 2004.
  • Editor, Undisclosed Recipients, student publication addressing intersections of race, class, and gender within queer communities, Oberlin College, Feb-May 1999.

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.