“They Were Really Us”: The UCSF Community’s Early Response to AIDS — A New Exhibition on Calisphere

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By Polina Ilieva, Head of Archives and Special Collections

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. The University of California, San Francisco (UCSF) was at the forefront of medical institutions trying to understand the disease and effectively treat early AIDS patients.

Drawing on materials from the AIDS History Project collections preserved in UCSF’s Archives and Special Collections, the UCSF Library presents “They Were Really Us”: The UCSF Community’s Early Response to AIDS, a new digital exhibition on Calisphere that highlights the ways UCSF clinicians and staff addressed HIV/AIDS from its outbreak in the 1980s to the foundation of the AIDS Research Institute in 1996. 

From medical professionals defining the disease and developing a model of care, to activists calling for treatments and public education, this exhibition amplifies the resilience of a community not only responding to its local needs, but also breaking ground on a larger scale with efforts that continue to impact HIV/AIDS care and research today. 

The NAMES Project AIDS Memorial Quilt panels displayed at San Francisco City Hall during San Francisco Lesbian and Gay Freedom Day Parade, UCSF Library, Archives and Special Collections.

This exhibition, including the digitization of materials used in this exhibition, has been made possible in part by a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities (PW-253755-17) “The San Francisco Bay Area’s Response to the AIDS Epidemic: Digitizing, Reuniting, and Providing Universal Access to Historical AIDS Records,” awarded to the UCSF Library in 2017-2020.

About UCSF Archives and Special Collections

UCSF Archives and Special Collections identifies, collects, preserves, and maintains rare and unique materials to support research and teaching of the health sciences and medical humanities and to preserve UCSF institutional memory. The Archives serve as the official repository for the preservation of selected records, print and born-digital materials, and realia generated by or about the UCSF, including all four schools, the Graduate Division, and the UCSF Medical Center.

The Special Collections encompasses a Rare Book Collection that includes incunabula, early printed works, and modern secondary works. The East Asian Collection is especially strong in works related to the history of Western medicine in Japan.The Japanese Woodblock Print Collection consists of 400 prints and 100 scrolls, dating from 16th to the 20th century. The Special Collections also contains papers of health care providers and researchers from San Francisco and California; historical records of UCSF hospitals; administrative records of regional health institutions; photographs and slides; motion picture films and videotapes; and oral histories focusing on development of biotechnology; the practice and science of medicine; healthcare delivery, economics, and administration; tobacco control; anesthesiology;  homeopathy and alternative medicine; obstetrics and gynecology; high altitude physiology; occupational medicine; HIV/AIDS and global health.

About Calisphere

Calisphere provides free access to California’s remarkable digital collections, which include unique and historically important artifacts from the University of California and other educational and cultural heritage institutions across the state. Calisphere provides digital access to over one million photographs, documents, letters, artwork, diaries, oral histories, films, advertisements, musical recordings, and more.
Calisphere Exhibitions are curated sets of items with scholarly interpretation that contribute to historical understanding. Exhibitions tell a story by adding context to selected digital primary sources in Calisphere, thereby bringing the digital content to life. Calisphere Exhibitions are curated by contributing institutions and undergo editorial review. We are currently refining these processes, which are outlined in the Contributor Help Center. Please contact us if you’re interested in learning more about Calisphere Exhibitions.

New Online Exhibit – Shanti Projects: Histories of Shanti Project and the AIDS Crisis

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We are delighted to announce a launch of an online exhibit, Shanti Projects: Histories of Shanti Project and the AIDS Crisis curated by University of Minnesota American Studies graduate student Brendan McHugh. It documents Shanti Project’s AIDS care work during the early decades of the AIDS crisis. Since 1974 Shanti has provided psychosocial peer support counseling to people with life-threatening illnesses and their loved ones in the San Francisco Bay Area of California. During the early years of the AIDS crisis, Shanti rose to the challenge by creating groundbreaking services for people living with AIDS/HIV. For much of the 1980s and 1990s Shanti was one of the largest AIDS organizations in the U.S. The plurality of the exhibit’s title reflects the vast array of people’s experiences at Shanti during that time period, as well as those who work with Shanti today. Visit the exhibit at https://shantiprojects.dash.umn.edu

Shanti Projects online exhibit homepage
Shanti Projects online exhibit homepage

Shanti Projects is organized to reflect the process of becoming involved with Shanti as a volunteer. Alongside the main exhibit are three multimedia pages showcasing the work of photographers Judi Iranyi, Mariella Poli, and Jim Wigler and their portraits of people with AIDS/HIV who played important roles with Shanti. In the future, the final page Active Listening will provide audio clips from oral histories conducted for this project with accompanying transcripts to follow. Additional materials and sources have been provided by The Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgender Historical Society, University of California, San Francisco, and generous interviewees personal materials.

A Shanti Support Group, circa 1985. Photo by Judi Iranyi
A Shanti Support Group, circa 1985. Photo by Judi Iranyi

There will also be a newsletter published monthly to announce updates on new material and events connected to the exhibit. Please sign up through the link on the exhibit website. For more information contact Brendan McHugh at mchug103@umn.edu.

[This press release was provided by Brendan McHugh]

Surviving and Thriving: A new exhibit at ZSFG

By Griffin Burgess

Announcing a new exhibit at ZSFG!

From January 28th to March 9th, the National Libraries of Medicine’s traveling exhibit, Surviving and Thriving: AIDS, Politics, and Culture will be on display in the lobby of the main hospital (Building 25) at Zuckerberg San Francisco General Hospital.

The exhibit is only available for six weeks, so be sure to visit as soon as you can!

From NLM:

The exhibition explores the rise of AIDS in the early 1980’s and the evolving response to the epidemic over the last 30 years.

The title Surviving and Thriving comes from a book written in 1987 by and for people with AIDS that insisted people could live with AIDS, not just die from it. Jennifer Brier, the exhibition curator, explains that “centering the experience of people with AIDS in the exhibition allows us to see how critical they were, and continue to be, in the political and medical fight against HIV/AIDS.”

 Protestors in front of the James A. Shannon Building, National  Institutes of Health, 1990  Courtesy Donna Binder
Protestors in front of the James A. Shannon Building, National Institutes of Health, 1990 Courtesy Donna Binder

Surviving and Thriving presents their stories alongside those of others involved in the national AIDS crisis. The six-banner traveling exhibition utilizes a variety of historic photographs as well as images of pamphlets and publications to illustrate how a group of people responded to, or failed to respond, to HIV/AIDS.

Robert C. Gallo, M.D. at the National Institutes of Health, early 1980’s . Courtesy National Cancer Institute, National Institutes of Health
Robert C. Gallo, M.D. at the National Institutes of Health, early 1980’s. Courtesy National Cancer Institute, National Institutes of Health

This exhibition was produced by the National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health and curated by Jennifer Brier, PhD, University of Illinois.