Dissertations, Theses, and Capstone Projects

Date of Degree


Document Type


Degree Name





Nancy K. Miller

Committee Members

Kandice Chuh

David Gerstner

Hillary Chute

Subject Categories

American Literature | American Material Culture | American Popular Culture | Feminist, Gender, and Sexuality Studies | History of Gender | Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Studies | Photography | United States History | Visual Studies | Women's History


archives, 1980s, feminism, queer theory, gender, grassroots, activism, lesbians, comics, visual culture


Archiving the '80s: Feminism, Queer Theory, & Visual Culture locates a shared genealogy of feminism and queer theory in the visual culture of 1980s American feminism. Gathering primary sources from grant-funded research in a dozen archives, I analyze an array of image-text media of women, ranging from well known creators like Gloria Anzaldúa, Alison Bechdel, and Nan Goldin, to little known ones like Roberta Gregory and Lee Marrs. In each chapter, I examine how each woman develops movement politics in her visual production, and I study the reception of their works in their communities of influence. Through studying hybrid visual rather than merely literary output, I explore the overlooked role of visual culture in feminist and LGBT social justice movements. In the first chapter, I review the transition period from the 1970s through the comics work of Roberta Gregory and Lee Marrs. Their early comics demonstrate the limitations of 1970s feminism, and I analyze how they develop their critiques in the 1980s in newly created comics series like Gay Comix (1980-1998). In the second chapter, I reconfigure the legacy of cartoonist Alison Bechdel as a grassroots activist through analyzing her participation as production coordinator of multiple grassroots periodicals across the 1980s. The third chapter resituates Chicana theorist Gloria Anzaldúa as a visual thinker and examines how she fuses race and sexuality in drawings that she would use to illustrate her own talks. I consider the importance of visual discourse to women of color feminism by evaluating the changing visual material in each version of her famed anthology, This Bridge Called My Back (1981, 1983, 2002, 2015). In the fourth chapter, I scrutinize the evolving politics of photographer Nan Goldin in her well-known The Ballad of Sexual Dependency slideshow and in her little-discussed curation of the controversial AIDS exhibit, Witnesses: Against Our Vanishing (1989). Through these artists’ visual production, I argue that the visual offers a more capacious form of feminism that embraces diversity, especially around issues of sexuality.