The posters were donated to the University's Department of Rare Books, Special Collections and Preservation by retired physician Dr. Edward C. Atwater, M.D., '50, an emeritus professor of medicine at the University of Rochester Medical Center. Atwater, who began collecting the posters in 1990, donated the artwork with the stipulation that it be digitized so the public could view the collection in its entirety.
"My hope is to show people the responses from various societies to a deadly disease. Looked at chronologically, the AIDS posters show how social, religious, civic, and public health agencies tailored their message to different groups," said Atwater, 87, who lives in Rochester, N.Y. The posters provide a visual history of the first three decades of the HIV/AIDS crisis from 1981 to the present. Depending on their audience, creators of the posters used stereotypes, scare tactics, provocative language, imagery, and even humor to educate the public about the disease. Selections of the posters were previously on exhibit at colleges, high schools, public libraries, and museums such as the Brooklyn Museum of Art.
"When Dr. Atwater decided to donate the collection, he thought it was appropriate to donate it to the University's library, because he felt it is not just a medical history, but a social and cultural history," said Melissa S. Mead, the University's John M. and Barbara Keil University Archivist and Rochester Collections Librarian. "Having the whole collection available online allows viewers to discover things that are not evident even when seeing them in person. This includes country-by-country comparisons, the use and re-use of imagery and themes, and a look at how the world handled—and continues to handle—this health epidemic."
In addition to the now complete collection of posters, the site contains research conducted by University of Rochester students who have used the collections, an introduction to the collection by Alexander Brier Marr, a doctoral student in visual and cultural studies, and links to additional AIDS educational resources.