Viral Cultures

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Viral Cultures: Activist Archiving in the Age of AIDS (University of Minnesota Press, 2022) delves deep into the archives that keep the history and work of AIDS activism alive.

Serving as a vital supplement to the existing scholarship on AIDS activism of the 1980s and 1990s, Viral Cultures is the first book to critically examine the archives that have helped preserve and create the legacy of those radical activities. Marika Cifor charts the efforts activists, archivists, and curators have made to document the work of AIDS activism in the United States and the infrastructure developed to maintain it, safeguarding the material for future generations to remember these social movements and to revitalize the epidemic’s past in order to remake AIDS’ present and future.

Drawing on large institutional archives such as the New York Public Library, as well as those developed by small, community-based organizations, this work of archival ethnography details how contemporary activists, artists, and curators utilize these records to build upon the cultural legacy of AIDS activism to challenge the conditions of injustice that continue to undergird current AIDS crises. Cifor analyzes the various power structures through which these archives are mediated, demonstrating how ideology shapes the nature of archival material and how it is accessed and used. Positioning vital nostalgia as both a critical faculty and a generative practice, it explores the act of saving this activist past and reanimating it in the digital age.

While many books, popular films, and major exhibitions have contributed to a necessary awareness of HIV and AIDS activism, Viral Cultures provides a crucial missing link by highlighting the powerful role of archives in making those cultural moments possible.