Since the release of her book “Living Queer History: Remembrance and Belonging in a Southern City,” Dr. G. Samantha Rosenthal has had discussions with people near and far about what the book means to them.
The book, published in December by University of North Carolina Press, tells the story of the LGBTQ+ community in Roanoke. It is also part memoir, about Rosenthal’s own journey, coming out and transitioning as a transgender woman in the midst of working on the book. She said various aspects of the book resonate with readers in different ways.
“In Roanoke, people will say, ‘I had no idea about this history here,’ and it's reshaping the way they think about the city and about our community,” Rosenthal said. “And nationally, it's more like having conversations about the kind of big ideas in the book and how it might apply in other places where people live.”
Rosenthal, associate professor of history at Roanoke College, began working on the book in 2018, but the research began long before that. When Rosenthal started working for the College in 2015, she founded the Southwest Virginia LGBTQ+ History Project, which strives to discover and preserve the history of the LGBTQ+ community in the region.
For the past seven years, Rosenthal and Roanoke College students have conducted interviews with dozens of members of the LGBTQ+ community for the project. Rosenthal said she hires a couple students per year to work in various roles, from digitizing interviews to running social media accounts.
“I've worked with a lot of students over the years, and they've really helped the project to really get things done, which I don't always have a lot of time to do,” Rosenthal said. “So in my acknowledgments in the book, I list all those students because they really have done so much to make it possible for us to do the kinds of community work that we're doing.”
That work continues, through interviews with LGBTQ+ people who live in more rural areas instead of cities such as Roanoke. Students in Rosenthal’s INQ 300 class are already hard at work coordinating those interviews, and Rosenthal said their experiences will paint a fuller picture of what life is like in Southwest Virginia for the LGBTQ+ community.
“We've lacked some of those stories,” Rosenthal said. “So that's where we're focusing now.”
Rosenthal's work is reaching a national audience, including a podcast with Inside Higher Education's Academic Minute just this week. You can listen to that here.