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Viral Cultures

Viral Cultures

Activist Archiving in the Age of AIDS

Marika Cifor

Delves deep into the archives that keep the history and work of AIDS activism alive

280 Pages, 6 x 9 in

  • Paperback
  • 9781517909369
  • Published: June 7, 2022
  • eBook
  • 9781452963556
  • Published: June 7, 2022
  • Hardcover
  • 9781517909352
  • Published: June 7, 2022


Viral Cultures

Activist Archiving in the Age of AIDS

Marika Cifor

ISBN: 9781517909369

Publication date: June 7th, 2022

280 Pages

18 b&w illustrations

8 x 5

"This is a timely, important project that adds to the conversations happening now about the early days of AIDS and AIDS activism in the United States and how we remember and document that period in the present and for the future. As we live through another pandemic, the questions Marika Cifor raises about how we document and archive illness and illness politics are especially urgent and necessary."—Lisa Diedrich, author of Indirect Action: Schizophrenia, Epilepsy, AIDS, and the Course of Health Activism

"It may be that AIDS activism’s greatest legacy will have been its archival documentation. Marika Cifor runs with that legacy by offering the first full-length study of collections that now exist in institutional repositories. Through her provocative concept of ‘vital nostalgia,’ she explores the affective importance of AIDS activist archives for her queer generation. Viral Cultures itself is an act of curatorial caretaking that keeps HIV/AIDS archival activism alive to do its work in the present."—Ann Cvetkovich, director, Pauline Jewett Institute of Women’s and Gender Studies, Carleton University

"We all have the lethal constraints of a human body; Cifor offers us a pathway to ensure that our most important work, the messy work of living, cannot so easily be erased."—The Atlantic


"A particularly salient analysis, given the inequity exposed by COVID-19—and the systemic structures that made both [the AIDS and COVID-19] pandemics worse."—Fast Company


"Viral Cultures honors the efforts of activist archivists and artists who built and continue to build archives as forms of respite, healing, and resistance for marginalized communities, even as it critiques the power dynamics and inequalities reflected within the AIDS activist movement and its documentation efforts."—The American Archivist


"Cifor deftly demonstrates how activist archival and curatorial practices create a space from within which artists, activists, scholars, and others may productively resist the triumphalist impulse that undergirds so much contemporary AIDS coverage."—H-Net Review


Delves deep into the archives that keep the history and work of AIDS activism alive

Serving as a vital supplement to the existing scholarship on AIDS activism of the 1980s and 1990s, ViralCultures is the first book to critically examine the archives that have helped preserve and create the legacy of those radical activities. Marika Cifor charts the efforts activists, archivists, and curators have made to document the work of AIDS activism in the United States and the infrastructure developed to maintain it, safeguarding the material for future generations to remember these social movements and to revitalize the epidemic’s past in order to remake the present and future of AIDS. 

Drawing on large institutional archives such as the New York Public Library, as well as those developed by small, community-based organizations, this work of archival ethnography details how contemporary activists, artists, and curators use these records to build on the cultural legacy of AIDS activism to challenge the conditions of injustice that continue to undergird current AIDS crises. Cifor analyzes the various power structures through which these archives are mediated, demonstrating how ideology shapes the nature of archival material and how it is accessed and used. Positioning vital nostalgia as both a critical faculty and a generative practice, this book explores the act of saving this activist past and reanimating it in the digital age. 

While many books, popular films, and major exhibitions have contributed to a necessary awareness of HIV and AIDS activism, Viral Cultures provides a crucial missing link by highlighting the powerful role of archives in making those cultural moments possible. 

Marika Cifor is assistant professor in the Information School and adjunct faculty member in gender, women, and sexuality studies at the University of Washington.

Introduction. For the Record: AIDS, Archives, and Vital Nostalgia

1. “Your Nostalgia Is Killing Me!” ACT UP Nostalgia and the Meaning of HIV/AIDS

2. How to ACT UP: AIDS Archival Temporalities and the (Anti-)Institutionalization of the ACT UP/New York Records

3. An Archival Cure: Remedy, Care, and Curation with the Visual AIDS Archive

4. Status = Undetectable: Liminality and Archival Exhibitions in the Age of Survivability

5. Going Viral: Mobilizing AIDS Archives in Digital Cultures

Epilogue: How to Survive Another Plague