They Were Really Us, AIDS History Exhibit, Opens on October 1

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This is a guest post by exhibit curator Sabrina Oliveros 

When HIV/AIDS first seized the nation’s attention in the early 1980s, it was a disease with no name, known cause, treatment, or cure. Beginning as a medical mystery, it turned into one of the most divisive social and political issues of the 20th century.

On October 1, 2019, UCSF Archives & Special Collections is opening the exhibit They Were Really Us: The UCSF Community’s Early Response to AIDS. Featuring materials from the Archives’ extensive AIDS History Project Collections, the show highlights ways individual professionals affiliated with UCSF acted to address HIV/AIDS following its outbreak. Their responses included working in and with the larger San Francisco community – and continue to impact HIV/AIDS care and research today.

The exhibit title comes from a statement by Dr. Paul Volberding, who co-founded the country’s first dedicated AIDS Clinic in 1983; he now serves as the Director of UCSF’s AIDS Research Institute:

“The patients were exactly our age… all those other ways that we tend to separate ourselves meant very little when you realize that the patients had gone to the same schools, they listened to the same music, they went to the same restaurants. So they were really us… which added to the commitment that I think all of us had.”

Early milestones

The first proofs of that commitment are traced through displays on the main lobby (third floor) of the UCSF Library.

Here, papers, slides, photographs, and artifacts help outline early milestones in HIV/AIDS research and care. These include the foundation of the Kaposi’s Sarcoma Clinic at UCSF, which sought to understand the mysterious “cancer” that turned out to be AIDS; the discovery of the HIV virus in 1983 by Dr. Jay Levy; the establishment of the outpatient and inpatient AIDS clinics at San Francisco General Hospital; and the development of the holistic San Francisco Model of AIDS Care.

Pioneering and compassionate, this model treated people with AIDS not simply as patients requiring medical attention, but as complex individuals also in need of psychological, social, economic, and political support.

Excerpts from the diary of Bobbi Campbell – a UCSF nursing student who championed the People With AIDS Self-Empowerment Movement – help tell some of these individual stories. So do a selection of newsletters and other materials that lend voices to persons with AIDS.

A loaned section of the AIDS Memorial Quilt caps off the displays.

Community voices

The outbreak of HIV/AIDS devastated the city of San Francisco; it also mobilized the community. Exhibits on the first floor of the library showcase the work done by community organizations that, beyond the medical front, fought HIV/AIDS.

Reproductions of posters – mostly from UCSF’s longest-running partners, the San Francisco AIDS Foundation and the Shanti Project – represent outreach and educational campaigns necessary to combat the disease. Materials from Mobilization Against AIDS and the AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power (ACT-UP) speak to the political battle that AIDS became.

How much of an impact did these advocacy groups make? A selection of letters, written to the leaders of Mobilization Against AIDS and AIDS Treatment News, offer an idea.  

Continuing care

On the fifth floor of the library, displays touch on two more milestones following the 1980s.

The first, UCSF’s sponsoring of the 6th International Conference on AIDS, is one of the many examples of how physicians and researchers have expanded their work on a global scale. Revisiting this 1990 conference is timely, as the 23rd International Conference on AIDS will take place in Oakland and San Francisco in July next year – the first time the conference will be in the Bay Area in nearly three decades.

The second milestone, the founding of the AIDS Research Institute in 1996, puts a focus on the UCSF’s continuing efforts to find a cure, and end HIV/AIDS once and for all.

They Were Really Us will be on view until September 2020: https://www.library.ucsf.edu/archives/lectures-exhibits/

New Exhibition Assistant: Mauricio Velasco

Mauricio Velasco is a young emerging professional in the museum industry. Born in San Salvador, El Salvador and raised in Los Angeles, he relocated from Los Angeles to attend the University of San Francisco. At USF, he aims to further his education while simultaneously gaining more work experience; he is currently interning as a Guest Assistant Curator for the University of California, San Francisco where he is assisting on their newest exhibition on AIDS titled, “They Were Really Us: UCSF’s Early Response to the AIDS Epidemic”.

As an Anthropology Major from the University of California, Riverside, Mauricio has a background in the study of human societies and cultural development. During his early college years he worked as an art handler and preparator in his university’s museum, which is composed of three distinct spaces: The California Museum of Photography, Sweeney Art Gallery, and Barbara & Art Culver Center of the Arts. Shortly after obtaining his BA, he started an Internship in the Collections Department at The Wende Museum of the Cold War. The Wende Museum is an art museum, historical archive, and educational institution located in Culver City, California. It is here that he worked other unique jobs found in the museum industry like that of a registrar, docent, and event staff member. After working at his university’s museum and The Wende Museum, Mauricio decided he wanted to have a career in the museum industry because of his love for the arts. Mauricio applied to the University of San Francisco’s Museum Studies Program shortly after.

Mauricio is now looking to network and collaborate with like-minded people who wish to push the envelope on what a museum can do as a public institution for its community. He is especially interested in cultural and historical museums. In his spare time he likes some rest and relaxation. When traveling, he is sure to visit the local museum, whether it is in Auckland, New Zealand, at the Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki or at the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam, Netherlands.

Arthur E. Guedel Anesthesia Collection

UCSF Archives and Special Collections is pleased to announce that the Arthur E. Guedel Anesthesia Collection is now processed. The collection’s finding aid is available publicly on the Online Archive of California. Collection processing made possible through support from the Arthur E. Guedel Memorial Anesthesia Center Board of Trustees.

Arthur E Guedel, M.D., was an anesthesiologist and clinical professor of anesthesia at the University of Southern California. The collection documents Dr. Guedel’s long career as an anesthesiologist. The collection includes a variety of material related to his research and his professional service. The collection also includes material from Dr. A.E. Bennett, Dr. William Neff, Dr. Leonard Ramsay Thompson, and Dr. Richard C. Gill’s Ecuadorian curare expedition. The collection also includes material from the Guedel Memorial Anesthesia Center and includes administration files, photographs, and correspondence.

Material in this collection relates to Guedel’s work and others in the anesthesia field, including files regarding anesthesia, anesthesia machines and equipment, ether, chloroform, curare, and other related topics. Material includes correspondence, reports and publications, files related to conferences and meetings, photographs, audiovisual recordings, artifacts, computer media, and other material.

You can view the collection finding aid on the Online Archive of California. If you would like to visit the UCSF Archives and Special Collections and work with the complete physical collection, please make an appointment with us.