Three Questions with Dennis Michael Mims
Three Questions is an initiative to share the value that our faculty, students, and others in the UNT community derive from using the Unique Collections at UNT Libraries.
How important are Unique Collections in your teaching, learning or research?
The lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) archive in Special Collections at the University of North Texas (UNT) and the Portal to Texas History are highly important to my dissertation research. My dissertation is a history of Dallas’ LGBT community. It spans four decades. The current title of my dissertation is A Queer History of Dallas: The Formation, Development, and Integration of Big D’s LGBT Community, 1965-2005. The large LGBT archive is important to my research because it contains a wide array of primary source materials. The Portal to Texas History is important because it also contains some primary source materials, photographs, and the Dallas Voice, the three-decade old newspaper that covers Dallas’ LGBT community.
I knew about the LGBT archive when it was located at the Resource Center in Oaklawn. Even though I had checked out some books from the Resource Center’s library, I had never gone through its archive. Shortly after I started in the doctoral program at the University of Texas at Dallas (UTD), the LGBT archive was donated to UNT. I was happy to hear about UNT’s acquisition of the archive because I thought that once the university received it, it would be organized very well which meant it would be easy to utilize. I was correct in my thinking about how Special Collections would organize the archive.
How have Unique Collections changed the way you approach your research, teaching or learning?
The amount of source material in Unique Collections has influenced my approach to my project. For example, the LGBT archive in Special Collections at UNT is a large one that contains several subsections. Because of the size of the archive, I have had to think closely about what I want to put in the history that I am writing and what will be left out of it. Even though this is a challenge for me, it is not bad at all. I think that it is safe to say that most historians prefer the problem of having too much source material to work with than too little.
Special Collections and the Portal to Texas History have also made me think about the illustrations that will be employed in my dissertation. I knew that I would use a certain amount of photos in my project, however, after I started going through Special Collections and the Portal to Texas History, I began to think more closely about the pictures that will be used in the history that I am writing. Regarding illustrations, I have the same challenge that I have with documents in Special Collections. I have to decide which ones will be part of my dissertation, and the ones that will not.
What do you want others to know about your research?
There are a few things that I would like for others to know about my research and learning. First, I want to share that I have been married to this topic for a decade. I wrote my first seminar paper on the Cathedral of Hope in the spring of 2006. That was followed by a seminar paper on Penal Code Section 21.06 and the Baker v. Wade case in the fall of 2006. I completed my master’s thesis about Cathedral of Hope in 2009. While doing these projects, I conducted a number of oral histories related to the history of Dallas’ LGBT community. I share all of this to explain that because I have been connected to this project for so long, I had an idea of what to look for when I began my research; I also had a general idea of what kind of history I wanted to write. Second, even though I had an idea of the kind of history that I wanted to produce, some of the information that I found in Special Collections and on the Portal to Texas History caused me to rethink the approach that I was taking on my dissertation because of the new things that I have been learning. Third, I think that anyone who undertakes a major research project should be open to the possibility of producing a different kind of history than he or she had originally imagined.
Dennis Michael Mims is a doctoral candidate at University of Texas at Dallas. He received his B.A. in Historical Studies from UT Dallas and his M.S. in History from University of North Texas. After completing his Ph.D., he plans on having a career in academia. Dennis Michael plans on teaching and researching and writing about civil rights and social movements. He is a native Texan who comes from a close-knit family that lives here in the DFW Metroplex.