Speaking with Howard Solomon about his years of LGBT research

Finding — and preserving — unheard voices
By JEFF INGLIS  |  October 19, 2011

When Howard Solomon's name was submitted as a nominee for the Catalyst for Change Award, the highest honor given by the Sampson Center for Diversity in Maine at the University of Southern Maine, the center's board agreed very easily to bestow it upon the well-known LGBT historian.

"He has an outstanding record in Maine," says Susie Bock, the center's director, who has worked with Solomon for many years preserving papers, records, and items shedding light on Maine's gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender communities. (The Sampson Center also has significant holdings on the history of Maine's Jewish and African-American populations.)

"He has played a part in educating people in Maine since he moved here" in 1987, Bock says, writing essays to accompany numerous exhibitions, speaking with school and non-profit groups, as well as teaching LGBT history classes at USM.

Solomon, a longtime history professor at Tufts University outside Boston, first moved to Maine as a result of his relationship with Ron Clark, who worked in Portland. "We moved to Kittery, which was equidistant, and so we were both miserable," Solomon recalls with his characteristic wry humor. Shortly thereafter, Clark was diagnosed with AIDS; the couple bought a home in Gray and lived there together until Clark died in January 1989. Solomon lost his partner, but found a home, welcomed by the Quaker community (Solomon, a Jew, and the Methodist Clark were pleasantly surprised by that)

Solomon also got involved with groups giving diversity workshops around Maine, and so he stayed, commuting to Tufts and doing a lot of organizing and activism here. Out In Maine spoke with him about the evolution of his career and life's work, and the importance of preserving records of ordinary people's lives for future generations.

I WANTED TO FIND OUT HOW YOUR HISTORICAL INTERESTS EVOLVED; YOU STARTED LOOKING AT SOCIAL HISTORY IN FRANCE AND THEN SHIFTED INTO GENDER AND SEXUALITY STUDIES. When I went into 16th, 17th, 18th century French history, one of the things that fascinated me from the very outset of that research was not what was happening in the throne rooms and among the diplomats but what was happening among the people who were silent in the historical record, i.e., the people in the kitchen, the people in the stables, the people in the gutters, the people in the streets. Which also coincided with an interest in France in that period, in the late '60s, which then of course exploded in the 1968 student revolution — what the French were referring to as marginalité et pouvoir, "marginality and power," looking at the relationship between the center and the periphery. When I came to Tufts in the early '70s, I was doing as it were, the "straight French history" — but I was really more and more interested in, what in those days was called, either "marginality and power," which is a loaded term; or, even more loaded, "social deviants," i.e., women, the poor, children . . .

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