Society for Queer Memory Collections
The collection of Society for Queer Memory represents a unique set of daily needs items, printed materials, private funds and oral testimonies capturing the history, memory and everydayness of LGBT/queer people living in Czech milieu. The oldest members of the community are perceived as bearers of a specific historical memory based on their experience of the second half of the 20th century, when they were criminalized and subjected to repression by the state. Thus, the collection focuses also on defensive strategies of “dual life” of this particular social group, both official and private.
Na Strži 1683/40, 140 00 Praha 4, Czech Republic
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Name of collection
- The Collection of Society for Queer Memory
Provenance and cultural activities
In Czechoslovakia, same-sex intercourse was a criminal offense until 1962, when it was decriminalized. The age of consent for same-sex intercourse was 18 years old, meanwhile for heterosexual intercourse’s age of consent remained at 15 years old. Although same-sex intercourse itself was decriminalized, non-heterosexuality was still socially highly intolerable. The State Security gathering compromising materials did also focus on, apart from others, sexual orientation. The fear of being bullied by authorities, possible abuse of government power and problems in family, amongst friends or in workplace, forced non-heterosexuals to conceal and deny their sexual orientation. They thus lived double lives – one “official” and the other, which they had to hide from mainstream society.
As stated by Jan Seidl, historian and one of the initiators of the Society for Queer Memory, the history of non-heterosexual individuals and social groups can be treated as a more general civilization issue, one of many with which the Czech society has coped in its history. Seidl sees parallels between the history of non-heterosexuals and the relationship of Catholics and Protestants in pre-modern times, 19th-century labour issues, the Czech-German relations before 1945 and the opposition to the Communist regime after 1948. In all these cases, a minority had to deal with the majority disposing of symbolic power. The description of repression against "forbidden" people, knowledge of the mechanism of the relationship of power with social demand, the reaction of society within extreme situations, often led to severe homophobic manifestations (e.g. queer question within the Holocaust), a choice of minority strategies, various ways of remaining confidential; all these issues can provide a better understanding of more general processes, both in the case of sexual minorities and political dissent.
The gradual settlement of the relations of the non-heterosexual minority with the state power, as well as the active negotiation with the majority society, emerged only after 1989. These negotiations in the field of society, culture and law persisted until recently. Since 2013, the Society for Queer Memory has been dealing with the long-standing effort to acknowledge, and in particular with the problematic life of, “second lives” and personal stories of non-heterosexual minority. As many historians have focused their attention on the history of LBGT people since the 1990s, and the research in this field has already advanced relatively far, the founders of the Society for Queer Memory have decided to turn away from a purely academic perspective. Thus, they began to collect the memory of older members of the LGBT community. Their aim was to implement a certain form of “rescue research” and to collect interviews to preserve the memories of these people for future generations. The main reason is the fact that LGBT people often did not have any offspring to whom the memory could be passed on. The recorded interviews cover the period of state socialism and post-socialism. The uniqueness of the collection of these oral and historical testimonies lies in the fact that, unlike all other institutions involved in collecting memories, heterosexual orientation is not the norm. Questions about other sexuality, especially those dealing with people's life experience, are not examined enough yet.
In addition to the interviews and their transcripts, which are an important part of the collection, the Society also collects various items and testimonies, personal archives or estates of individual narrators or witnesses, from ego documents and papers to material objects of everyday needs and artistic artefacts connected to queer history. The collection covers a longer period, ranging from the Habsburg monarchy through the First Czechoslovak Republic (1918-38), the Protectorate (1939-45), under socialism, until the present day. This makes this collection, which is still expanding, unique within the Czech environment. Its uniqueness is also evidenced by the fact that the collection has recently been used in the preparation of publications from the series “Kmeny” (“Tribes”) - a multi-volume book publication and the Czech Television documentary series on the life of Czechoslovak subcultures. The Society also lends items to various Czech and foreign exhibitions. In the future, according to the Society’s plans, the collection should serve as the basis for a permanent exhibition of the history of sexual minorities in the Czech Lands. So far, the task of the collection is to preserve some form of specific memory as well as serve research needs, educational and popularizing purposes. The Society carries out film screenings, its members encourage students of bachelor, masters and postgraduate programs to research on issues related to sexual minorities, and the Centre also works as a meeting place for queer seniors. The activities of the Society are annually presented in a stand at the Prague Pride event.
According to the founders of the Society for Queer Memory, the continuity of memory and its preservation as well as its transfer are a basic element in the formation of the community. They accentuate the exclusion of non-heterosexual people and stress the fact that most archival documents dealing with queer people are from police or psychiatric records, they draw attention to the frequent absence of family memories and the generally stronger process of “forgetting”. They believe that it is the community and its traditions that provide its members with both social and individual self-confidence. As stated by Czech art historian Milena Bartlová, “the Society for Queer Memory, its future collections, archives and museum, opposes the forced forgetting of the lives of people who were forced to live in hidden communities, excluded from family traditions and memorial rituals.”
Description of content
The collection began to be gathered together with the emergence of the Society for Queer Memory (SPQP). Since 1 June 2015, the Society has been operating the Queer Memory Centre (CQP). The Centre has various aims as it serves as a background for work on memory of older LGBT generations, LGBT history research, the preservation of collections from this area, as well as for presenting these results to the public through cultural and educational programs, and last but not least, as a meeting place for LGBT seniors. The artefacts stored in the collection are presented through exhibitions, cultural, educational and other events organized by the Society for Queer Memory. These artefacts are registered and catalogued. The library is continuously expanded and since May 2017, the collection also has a specific section on oral history.
The collection includes different types of items and archival records. For the period from 1948 to 1989, the most relevant materials are transcripts of interviews with witnesses. In these interviews, the narrators describe their experience of living secret “second lives.” Until the end of 2017, 32 narrators had been involved in the oral history research and 50 sessions had been recorded. The priority of the Centre for the year 2018 is to make 22 filmed sessions available.
The collection is divided into three parts. The first part contains the above-mentioned interviews. The second part includes various personal collections, papers, and ego documents. The third part contains photographs, postcards, calendars, items for daily need, condoms, artwork, clothing, newspapers, magazines and books. The library contains about 1000 titles. One of the most valuable artefacts of the collection is a facsimile of Allen Ginsberg's poem “Kral majales” from 1965, painted by Robert LaVigne. On the occasion of this acquisition, an exhibition was held in January 2018 commemorating Ginsberg's visit to Prague in 1965. Moreover, a multimedia library containing audio and video recordings and films with queer topics is part of the collection. The Centre conducts research on queer themes in Czechoslovak and Czech cinematography. The result of this research, a list of 131 films created between 1911 and 2017, can serve as a basis for further study and research projects.
Thanks to the collection, researchers can explore personal experiences and fates, as well as the everyday practice and specifics of the secret “second” life of queer people. Moreover, their forms of communication, leisure, association and sexual practices can be studied via the collection as well. The collection is frequently used in educational and popularization activities (e.g. movie screenings). Last but not least, the Centre is currently organising a temporary exhibition of LGBT history and memory.
- artifacts: 10-99
- cartoons & caricatures: 0-9
- film: 10-99
- grey literature (regular archival documents such as brochures, bulletins, leaflets, reports, intelligence files, records, working papers, meeting minutes): 100-499
- manuscripts (ego-documents, diaries, notes, letters, drafts, etc.): 100-499
- music recordings: 10-99
- paintings: 10-99
- photos: 1000-
- publications (books, newspapers, articles, press clippings): 500-999
- video recordings (including oral history recordings): 0-9
Geographical scope of recent operation
Date of founding
Place of founding
Praha, Prague, Czech Republic
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Important events in the history of the collection
- visits by appointments
Author(s) of this page
- Bárta, Jan
- Chmátal, Jonáš
Společnost pro queer paměť. 2017. "Výroční zpráva Společnosti pro queer paměť 2015." Accessed April 26. https://www.queerpamet.cz/inpage/vyrocni-zpravy/.
Společnost pro queer paměť. 2017. "Výroční zpráva Společnosti pro queer paměť 2016." Accessed April 26. https://www.queerpamet.cz/inpage/vyrocni-zpravy/.
A2alarm.cz. 2018. “Lidé bez dějin jsou vlastně prach.” Last modified July 27. https://a2larm.cz/2018/07/lide-bez-dejin-jsou-vlastne-prach/.
Benedek, Katalin. 2017. “Vizuální obraz Sokola queer očima.” Artwalk.cz. Last modified June 12. http://artalk.cz/2017/06/12/jak-spolu-souvisi-homoerotika-a-nacionalismus-na-pohlednicich-ze-sokola/.
Zprávy, tiscali.cz. 2016. "Přehlížené dějiny pronásledování a perzekucí. Rozhovor s ‘queer’ historikem" [Interview with Jan Seidl]. Last modified April 11. https://zpravy.tiscali.cz/prehlizene-dejiny-pronasledovani-a-perzekuci-rozhovor-s-queer-historikem-274216.
Společnost pro queer paměť. 2017. "Podsbírka orální historie." Accessed April 26. https://www.queerpamet.cz/inpage/podsbirka-oh/.
Tymr, František, interview by Chmátal, Jonáš , April 24, 2017. COURAGE Registry Oral History Collection