1980s Culture and Society is an eclectic and multi-faceted resource compiled from archival collections housed across the United States, United Kingdom, Australia, and Canada. Capturing diverse perspectives, grassroots materials produced by left-wing organizations and under-represented groups are presented alongside government records and mainstream media to showcase the key social, cultural, and political concerns of the decade.

From the rise of Conservatism, the threat of nuclear war, and the AIDS crisis, to rampant consumerism, economic crises, and technological advancements, the 1980s was a turbulent and complex decade in which some individuals reaped significant benefits whilst others experienced severe poverty and hardship. Drawing on material from the late 1970s through to the early 1990s, this resource focuses on the voices of under-represented groups, grassroots organizations, and countercultural movements, addressing themes such as sexuality and identity, Black resistance movements, Indigenous land rights, subcultures, and health and social issues.

These themes are represented within a broad range of sources which feature a variety of perspectives. For example, campaign materials, newspapers and newsletters from grassroots organizations and local communities provide a keen insight into social and political activism during the 1980s, whilst government papers and speeches from the Reagan and Thatcher administrations demonstrate the rise in political conservatism that dominated the decade. Collections of zines highlight the rich creativity and productivity of 80s subcultures, whilst mainstream and consumer culture is epitomised in fashion catalogues, photojournalism and gaming ephemera.

Due to the nature of these sources, with many drawn from the campaign materials of grassroots and anarchist organizations, self-published zines, and photographers operating in conflict zones, graphic images and written accounts featuring violence, sexual violence, injury, death, sexually explicit content, child abuse, racism, homophobia, misogyny and explicit language can be found in this resource.

Please also note that, due to the period in which the primary sources in this resource were produced, some do contain language and terminology that is outdated, derogatory and offensive by modern standards. Learn more about our approach to terminology in this resource in the Language Statement.

A note on material from the State Library of New South Wales:

This collection of material from the State Library of New South Wales includes content created by and about Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Communities. This includes discussions of deaths in custody, racism and land rights, as well as images and names of people who have died. This may cause sadness or distress, or offend against cultural prohibition. Some words or expressions, which reflect the author's attitude or that of the period in which the item was written, may also be considered inappropriate today in some circumstances.

  • Newspapers and Serials produced by grassroots and left-wing organizations sourced from the Interference Archive, a volunteer-led library whose collections specialize in social and political activism. Highlights include: Black Flag, an anarchist magazine made by the Anarchist Black Cross; BLK, a news and culture magazine aimed at African American LGBTQ+ readers; No Nuke News, a newspaper produced by Citizens Against Nuclear Power; and Burning Spear, the newspaper of the African People's Socialist Party.
  • Zines which offer unique and personal insights into various subcultures and fandoms of the 1980s. Highlights include: What Wave, a Canadian alternative music fanzine; Warning, focusing on the Alaskan punk scene; and Weberwoman’s Wrevenge, an Australian science fiction fandom and literature fanzine. A selection of zines also focus on LGBTQ+ communities such as The Leaping Lesbian which includes LGBTQ+ news alongside original stories, poetry and reviews. The Sandra Springer Collection also provides further insight into 1980s zine culture and fan culture.


The Leaping lesbian, v.1 no.9 © Courtesy of Laura Sky Brown for The Leaping Lesbian Collective

The Leaping lesbian, v.1 no.9 © Courtesy of Laura Sky Brown for
The Leaping Lesbian Collective.
Material sourced from Bowling Green State University.


  • Government papers which highlight the conservatism of the Thatcher and Reagan administrations, and which provide insight into their support of traditional and capitalist policies including privatization and reductions in public welfare spending, anti-drug legislation and attempts to restrict reproductive rights, as well as policies concerning nuclear deterrence.
  • Newspapers produced by, and for, Indigenous communities in the United States and Canada which feature an array of perspectives regarding land rights, conservation, and health and social issues including housing and family planning.
  • Newsletters produced by key Canadian activist organizations such as the Advocacy Resource Centre for the Handicapped (ARCH), a legal aid clinic now known as the ARCH Disability Law Centre which advocates for the rights of persons with disabilities, and the Ontario Native Women’s Association (ONWA). Read more about ONWA in the essay The Ontario Native Women’s Association: Finding Our Voice, written by ONWA staff members Sarah McPherson (Research Assistant), Deidre Rowe Brown (Consultant) and Ingrid Green (Director of Research and Evaluation).
  • Newsletters produced by, and for, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Communities which address key concerns such as land rights battles, campaigns against uranium mining and health and social issues including housing. Highlights include the Kimberley Land Council Newsletter, the Aboriginal Land Rights Support Group Newsletter, and Land Rights published by the Black Women’s Action Committee.


Land Rights © Black Women’s Action Committee. Material sourced from State Library of New South Wales.

Land Rights © Black Women’s Action Committee.
Material sourced from State Library of New South Wales.


  • Records of Friends of the Earth New South Wales including newsletters, meeting minutes, photographs and ephemera alongside published newsletters exploring environmental concerns, campaigns against nuclear power and uranium mining in the late 1970s and early 1980s.
  • Records, minutes, newsletters, correspondence and ephemera produced by the Leamington Anti-Racist, Anti-Fascist Committee (LARAFC), a grassroots organization which sought to combat racism and support the Black community in the towns of Warwick and Leamington Spa in the United Kingdom.
  • Collection of anarchist and alternative publications exploring key social, political and cultural concerns of the 1980s, with a focus on the United Kingdom. Highlights include: Sanity, the magazine of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND); The Miner, the journal of the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM); Outta Control published by the Belfast Anarchist Collective; and Brass Lip, a music fanzine published in Manchester (UK) focusing on the female punk scene.
  • Papers, records, advertisements and ephemera relating to early video game pioneers including Jerry Lawson, who produced the first video game console with interchangeable cartridges, and Carol Shaw, the first widely recognized professional female video game designer and programmer.
  • Atari design concept sketches and corporate records, including artworks, game development documentation, photographs, and marketing materials which chart the life-cycle of games such as Asteroids and Centipede from concept to launch.


Sell sheet front cover for Centipede game from Atari. From The Strong National Museum of Play

Sell sheet front cover for Centipede game from Atari.
Material sourced from The Strong National Museum of Play.


For more information on the material included from each library and archive in 1980s Culture and Society, please see our Guide to Archival Collections.

In order to facilitate browsing and to highlight the scope of the resource, the documents in 1980s Culture and Society have been tagged with the following key thematic areas:

  • Black Resistance Movements
  • Conflict and Disasters
  • Consumer Culture and Materialism
  • Disability Rights
  • Environmentalism
  • Feminism
  • Grassroots Activism and Community Groups
  • Health and Social Issues
  • Indigenous Rights
  • New Media and Technology
  • Politics and Rise of Conservatism
  • Popular Culture
  • Religious Movements and Spiritualism
  • Sexuality and Identity
  • Subcultures and Fandom
  • Threat of Nuclear War

For more information on these key thematic areas, and for examples of document highlights, please see our Thematic Guides.

The metadata accompanying the documents in 1980s Culture and Society has been drawn from library and archive catalogues, with additional data supplemented by the AM team to facilitate browsing and searching.

The metadata fields added by AM include:

  • Themes
  • Document Types
  • Countries
  • Places
  • Organizations
  • Movements
  • Key Events
  • Content Warnings

In some cases, edits or additions have been made to metadata taken from the library and archive catalogues to improve searchability and to ensure that the language and terminology is aligned with our current editorial guidelines. This is true for the following metadata fields:

  • Titles
  • Dates
  • Descriptions
  • Subjects
  • Publisher
  • Place of Publication

For more information on language and terminology within this resource, please see our Language Statement.

Please note that some materials in this resource include personal information that has been redacted in order to protect the privacy of living individuals.