Rosenthal says they learned of the pieces of past libraries even before moving to the region in 2015. “I wanted to see it,” they said. The conversation highlights the power and community benefit of individual efforts, and explores the changing roles of books and technology in identity and self-exploration. “The books seem anachronistic” to young volunteers, but oral histories show just how important they were for the community in the past.
Rosenthal founded the Southwest Virginia LGBTQ+ History Project, a community-based queer public history initiative. The effort has resulted in the LGBTQ History Collectionat the Virginia Room of the Roanoke Public Library, as well as a digital archive. Students and community members have recorded oral historieswith LGBTQ+ elders. And the group offers monthly walking tours of Downtown Roanoke and Old Southwest, Roanoke’s historic gayborbood.
In their work with Roanoke College, Rosenthal guides students in understanding the world around them. An upcoming partnership includes an oral history project gathering stories from people who have lived in intergenerational poverty. “I want our students to connect with stories and experiences that give them a sense of who they are in the world, but that also push them outside of their boundaries so that they meet and work with people very unlike themselves.”
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