In this paper, we present a field study that examines the development, application and maintenance of classification systems and controlled vocabularies in three archives documenting lesbian, trans* and queer-feminist histories. Queer archives face the challenge of documenting identities that are inherently characterized by embracing fluidity and ambiguity. Thus, queer identities are diametrically opposed to archival procedures of unambiguous classification. At the same time, queer activism relies partly on coherent identity categories in order to be able to act politically. We examine the pragmatic solutions that queer archives establish when dealing with tensions between those requirements. Our goal is to contribute to the ongoing discussions about the ethical dimensions of classification practices. Following the work of Geoffrey C. Bowker and Susan Leigh Star (1999) we use the concept of boundary objects as a central theoretical foundation of our research. This concept allows for tracing the negotiations and decision-making processes that influenced the creation of a specific classification system. Through conducting semi-structured interviews with staff members of queer archives in Germany we collected data about their efforts to archive the history of queer communities. Although there are initiatives developing metadata standards for queer identities, these standards are only used to a limited extent by the queer archives we examined. Rather, those archives established individual strategies for categorizing objects that are rooted in their specific history. We argue that classification systems and controlled vocabularies themselves can be understood as artifacts documenting the history of queer movements.

Creative Commons License

Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 4.0 License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 4.0 License.