The advent of HIV/AIDS in the early 1980s bred an atmosphere of fear and confusion as people fell ill and died, questions abounded, and answers, like solutions, were in short supply. Those with the disease faced stigma and many politicians ignored the issue or took a moralizing stance. In this climate, people with AIDS and their communities mobilized, mounting efforts to ensure their needs were met and fight discrimination, while scientists and public health workers struggled to understand the disease and come up with medical solutions.
“We condemn attempts to label us as ‘victims,’ a term which implies defeat, and we are only occasionally ‘patients,’ a term which implies passivity, helplessness, and dependence upon the care of others. We are ‘People With AIDS.’ —Denver Principles, 1983
Surviving and Thriving: AIDS, Politics, and Culture, a new traveling banner display and online exhibition from the National Library of Medicine, is an exploration of the rise of AIDS in the early 1980’s and the evolving response to the epidemic over the last 30 years. Curated by Jennifer Brier, PhD from the University of Illinois at Chicago, the exhibition illustrates an iconic history of AIDS alongside lesser-known examples of historical figures who changed the course of the pandemic, utilizing a variety of historic photographs, pamphlets, and publications. Dr. Brier places a special focus on the contributions of those with the disease. “[C]entering 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 human immunodeficiency virus (HIV)/AIDS.”
Surviving and Thriving online includes a Digital Gallery, an assortment of over 230 HIV/AIDS public health posters from the History of Medicine Division collection. The exhibition is also supplemented by education resources that investigate the exhibition content, including two lesson plans for grades 10-12; three six-class higher education modules; and two online activities. In addition, a selection of published landmark HIV/AIDS articles are provided by NLM’s PubMed Central, which freely provides access to over 2.8 million life science journal articles. Current health information is provided by AIDSInfo/InfoSIDA. Here are some highlights from the exhibition: