The underground, or alternative, press movement in the United States during the second half of the twentieth century gave a voice to the opinions of individuals and groups not traditionally represented within mainstream media outlets. The underground newspapers of the 1960s and 1970s, and later the zine movement of the 1980s and 1990s, were a means by which members of subcultural or countercultural groups were able to commmunicate their social, political, literary, and artistic ideals, most of which were too radical or outside the mainstream to be accepted by dominant social groups in America. As such, the zines and newspapers that survive from this period provide unique documentation of these non-traditional societal viewpoints, as well as the creative means in which they were frequently expressed.
This collection consists largely of zines, which are essentially self-published magazines written or compiled by a single person or a small group of people, and distributed through an informal network of individuals and collectives. Providing a precise definition of "zine" is difficult, as their self-published, independent nature resulted in a wide range of subject matter and creative techniques being used in their composition. Zines were produced in many sizes and shapes, and though they frequently adopted a cut-and-paste, collage, or photocopied format, they could, and did, appear in almost any format imaginable. The subject matter of zines was similarly variable, ranging from personal journals and rantings to eloquently-written political manifestos. However, a unifying element among all zines was their limited-run, underground distribution, and the generally countercultural viewpoints of those responsible for their creation. The creators of zines typically did not find mainstream media outlets suitable for or hospitable to their views and concerns, and this led to the proliferation of these independent publications during the 1970s and 1980s. Precursors to zines include the political pamphlets of Thomas Paine and others during the 18th and 19th centuries, as well as the more directly related science fiction fanzines that grew in popularity during the 1930s. Essentially, this mode of expression provided a platform of communication for the socially marginalized, and serve as a primary written record of countercultural viewpoints in the United States.
The creator of this collection, Joseph Heathcott, Ph.D., is a scholar, activist, and former professor of American Studies at Saint Louis University. He has a long background in community organizing, receiving training from IAF-South Bronx Churches in NYC and the Midwest Academy in Chicago. He also has extensive experience in photography, graphic arts, and agit-prop production. In the 1980s he was active with the anti-nuclear and anti-apartheid movements as well as with Latin American solidarity work. In the 1990s, he became involved in housing issues, first in tenant organizing and then in establishing cooperatives and Community Land Trusts. Heathcott is currently (as of July 2014) an Associate Professor of Urban Studies at The New School in New York City.