Archive for Appearances

Networking for Graduate Students


I will be facilitating a networking workshop for graduate students at Indiana University on Thursday, February 15, 2018, at 12:30 pm in Hazelbaker Hall at the Wells Library (east tower).

Because of my work doing career programming and advising for graduate students in history, the Indiana University Graduate and Professional Student Organization contacted me about facilitating one of their professional development workshops this semester and let me choose the topic. I selected networking because I’m something of a zealot on the subject. Honestly, my professional community has been such a huge factor in my success, I simply can’t imagine my career without this kind of warm, caring support system. And I want others to know what a difference building a support system can make.

Picture of the author and a friend at a restaurant table.

Melissa Bingmann, Director of Public History at West Virginia University, and me. I met Melissa in 2002 by chatting with her in the bar line at a conference reception.

My workshop will explore the specific benefits of building a network and describe the various approaches to the task. And since I’ve been deep in the topic for the last few days and seeing as how conference season will be starting in just a few weeks, I offer here a few tips on networking at conferences for young professionals who don’t know many colleagues yet.

  • Many conferences offer special sessions for newcomers. Go to the first-time attendees orientation; attend the graduate student reception; sign up for the speed-mentoring lab. These are the places to find other folks who are new to the conference and the profession, and as such they may be more eager to meet new people. Relationships may develop that will nurture you throughout your career.
  • If you are presenting at a conference, suggest that the panelists get together for a coffee or a meal in advance of the session. This will allow you to get to know each other better and find out more about each other’s work, while also helping you feel more prepared for your presentation.
  • If you’re on Twitter, live-tweet some of the sessions, interact with your fellow live-tweeters, then take the conversation into meatspace by attending the conference tweet-up, suggesting to a fellow tweeter that you meet for a meal, or saying “Hi” to people you recognize from their feeds.
  • Don’t spend the whole conference hanging out with your coworkers or fellow students in your graduate program. I know it’s tempting; these are people you already know, and the alternative is to risk feeling socially awkward by, say, standing alone at a reception. But if you want to meet new people, you have to be approachable, and few people are going to brave walking up to a jovial group of people who are already talking among themselves.
  • Talk to people. It sounds obvious, but (at least for me, at the beginning) it’s also terrifying. Alas, the simple truth is that you’ll meet a whole lot more people if you initiate conversations, than if you passively wait for someone to come up to you. You can be methodical about it, chatting with panelists after presentations you enjoyed and emailing people ahead of time whom you’d like to meet to invite them for a cup of coffee during the conference. You can also take your chances by just chatting with the person sitting next to you at the luncheon or walking up to the person standing by themselves at the reception. More often than not, folks will be grateful that you initiated contact.
  • Put the cell phone down. Seriously. You’re paying a lot of money to attend a conference; you can catch up on email or text your friends once you get back home. If you want to meet people, you need to be approachable, and a person staring intently at a screen is NOT approachable. So, people-watch instead; make eye contact; smile at people. But note that there are two caveats to this suggestion. First, if you are an introvert and need to take a break from interacting with people, pulling out your cell phone is an easy way to get that break. Second, if you’re using your cell phone to interact on social media about the conference, and you’re going to use that interaction to build real relationships with new people, then that’s a good use of screen time. Just make sure you also spend some time being present at the conference, away from social media.
  • Follow up. If you meet someone at a conference you want to know better, or would like to stay in touch with, take steps to do so. A quick email after you get back home will refresh their memory about your conversation and get your email address into their address book. Connect with them on Linked In or follow them on Twitter, and make an effort to interact with them directly on those platforms now and then. The next time you’re headed to a conference, ask if they’re going too and, if so, arrange to share a meal. Repeated contact is the way long-lasting professional relationships are built.

Some people are networking naturals. I envy them, because I most certainly am not one of them. In the early days of my career, I had to force myself to walk up to strangers and start chatting. I have been so nervous meeting new people that I have walked into walls, spilled wine on my companions, and accidentally launched appetizers across the room while gesturing. (Literally… and more than once.) You probably won’t be a networking ace at your first conference, either. It’s OK. With practice, it gets easier. And the reward is good relationships with people who do similar work in the world and hopefully share a passion for that work. It’s worth it!

Year in Review: 2017


I, for one, enjoy reading all those news articles that come out in late December, reflecting on the year that’s coming to a close. I suppose that’s not that surprising. Being a historian, I see value in compiling a record of events and seeing what insight can be gained from the exercise.

And so, in the spirit of the annual review, I offer here a snapshot of my professional undertakings in 2017.

 

Projects

2017 had me working on a range of projects involving historic preservation, historical research, cultural resources management, interpretation, professional training, career preparation for students, and editing. Two of my most exciting efforts involved a planning charrette at Stonewall National Monument and a National Register nomination for the home of sex researcher Alfred Kinsey. In addition, I continued work on numerous projects with the National Park Service.

Jennifer Hottell jumping for joy.

My colleague Jennifer Hottell celebrates the opening of our exhibit at the Buskirk-Chumley Theater.

In February 2017, a project I’d been working on for some time came to fruition. A Thing of Beauty and a Joy Forever”: The History of Bloomington’s Community Theater, an exhibit I created with Jennifer Hottell and Danielle McClelland, opened February 3, 2017, at the Buskirk Chumley Theater in Bloomington, Indiana. Funded by Indiana Humanities, the exhibit explores the history of the Indiana Theatre, a former movie palace that now operates as the Buskirk Chumley, a performing arts venue in downtown Bloomington, Indiana. 

This fall, I embarked on archival research related to sexuality studies at Indiana University, an effort sponsored by the Center for Sexual Health Promotion at the IU School of Public Health. I also continued my work with the Indiana University Department of History, providing a variety of career preparation programs for undergraduate and graduate students.

Late in the year, I began a new collaboration with University of Massachusetts Press, one of the leading publishers of work in the field of public history. I will be working with the press to provide editing services, an effort that will supplement the editing I already do for History News, the quarterly publication of the American Association for State and Local History.

 

Workshops and Talks

Throughout 2017, I gave multiple talks in the United States and United Kingdom. I had the honor of moderating the plenary session of the 2017 National Council on Public History Annual Meeting, “Making LGBTQ History American History: Stonewall National Monument and Beyond.” In addition, I gave lectures at the Mathers Museum of World Cultures, Indiana; Queer Localities, London; Rutgers University—Newark, New Jersey; and the University of Leicester, United Kingdom.

In my work, I particularly enjoy facilitating training sessions for museum and preservation professionals, and this fall, I was pleased to launch a new two-day workshop entitled “Researching, Preserving, and Interpreting the LGBTQ Past,” the first incarnation of which was held in Philadelphia in December 2017. Earlier in the year, I presented shorter training sessions—in person or via webinar—to Preservation Maryland, Eleanor Roosevelt National Historic Site, and the American Association of State and Local History.

I also found myself back in the classroom in May 2017, when I served as a guest lecturer at Middle Tennessee State University, in a course titled “Interpreting, Archiving, and Preserving Freedom Struggles.”

 

Writing

As 2017 comes to a close, I am awaiting the publication of three essays I have written over the course of the year. Each explores a different aspect of historic site interpretation, and I will be sure to make an announcement when each is published. In the meantime, during 2017, I had book reviews published in Museums (Richard Sandell’s Museums, Moralities, and Human Rights) and Choice (Bonnie J. Morris’s The Disappearing L: Erasure of Lesbian Spaces and Culture), and wrote a third review, which will be published early in 2018 in the Indiana Magazine of History. 

In May 2017, I spent a week as a social media journalist covering the American Alliance of Museums conference in St. Louis. I continue to post regularly on Twitter about topics related to museums, LGBTQ history, historic preservation, and the history of sexuality. Follow me @HistorySue and check my website regularly to discover what new endeavors await in 2018.

Queer London and Beyond


I am fresh back from a recent research and speaking trip to London. I encountered so many inspiring people and interpretive efforts that I want to share all I saw. Although I know I won’t be able to accomplish that, I do want to at least sketch out some of the highlights.

Exterior view of the Museum of Natural History in London, with a skating ring, Christmas tree, and merry-go-round.

Festive activities outside London’s Museum of Natural History. Image by Susan Ferentinos.

The purpose of the trip was three-fold: I was scheduled to give two talks about LGBTQ Museum Studies, and while I was heading across the ocean anyway, I decided to reach out to as many people as I could in the United Kingdom who also work in this field (there’s not so many of us, after all). To the extent possible, I also wanted to see first-hand what British museums are doing to celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of the legalization of homosexuality in Great Britain, insight that I expect will be useful to United States museums as we prepare for our own commemoration of the fiftieth anniversary of the Stonewall Uprising in 2019.

At the University of Leicester, I spoke to an international mix of museum studies faculty and graduate students on the various ways that LGBTQ experiences are interpreted in the United States. I also had the pleasure of meeting Richard Sandell in person. Renowned for his museum work in human rights and disability, we have communicated over social media for a number of years, but finally had a chance to get to know each other and exchange ideas in real time.

The day after my talk in Leicester, the Queer Localities conference started in London. A product of Queer Beyond London, an effort to document LGBTQ experiences in the rest of England, this conference drew scholars and museum professionals from throughout the United Kingdom, Europe, Australia, and North America to discuss what we can learn about queer identity when we shift the focus away from major urban areas.

As part of the event, I gave a talk on regional variations in the ways U.S. museums present LGBTQ experiences. What’s more, I gained a wider international perspective after hearing presentations from all over the global north, including public history examples from Oxford, Leeds, London, and Bristol. I also had an opportunity to meet the likes of Alison Oram, Justin Bengry, and Jude Woods, queer public historians all.

Lobby of the British Museum

The British Museum. Image by Susan Ferentinos

During my visit, I also sought to learn more about the U.K. National Trust’s Prejudice and Pride program, a nationwide effort to incorporate LGBTQ interpretation at National Trust historic sites, in honor of the fiftieth anniversary of decriminalization. Unfortunately, most of the special exhibits and events had already closed by the time I got there in late November, but for a glimpse of the program, check out the video at the end of this post (involving the aforementioned Richard Sandell) about a project at Kingston Lacy; the intriguing interpretation of a female ménage à trois at Smallhythe Place; or the Trust’s six-part LGBTQ podcast. And although I wasn’t able to see any of the efforts in action, I did meet with Rachael Lennon, one of the leaders of the program, and we spent a fabulous couple of hours over tea, exchanging stories and pondering the big issues around innovative programming, civic outreach, and public controversy.

When not giving presentations or swapping ideas with my British colleagues, I spent my time exploring the wonderful museums of London, soaking up interpretive ideas, particularly as they relate to LGBTQ interpretation. I took the award-winning, once-monthly LGBTQ Tour of the Collections at the Victoria and Albert Museum. And while the specific marked trail was already taken down, I took in what I could of the LGBTQ trail at the British Museum, based on information from its online exhibit, which remains accessible. I even stumbled unsuspectingly on a small collection of sex-related artifacts (not specifically queer) at the Wellcome Collection.

Overall, as with my trip to the Netherlands this time last year, my week in London allowed me to meet new colleagues, expanded my knowledge of international museum practice, and filled me with creative ideas for my own professional endeavors.

 

 

Planning for Stonewall National Monument is Under Way


2006 picture of the Stonewall Inn

The Stonewall Inn, 2006. Image courtesy of Deirdre, Wikimedia Commons.

On June 24, 2016, President Obama designated the site of the 1969 Stonewall Uprising a National Monument, making it the first unit of the National Park Service dedicated primarily to Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer (LGBTQ) history.

Planning is now officially under way at the Stonewall National Monument, located in Greenwich Village, New York City. One of the first tasks is to create what’s known as a “Foundation Document,” which will serve as the major building block of the park’s development. The National Park Service is currently seeking public input as it begins this process, and the agency is accepting comments through October 26, 2017. This flyer gives more detail on how to submit comments: StonewallNM_PublicComment_Announcement.

A "Raided Premises" sign from the Stonewall Uprising, now located inside the Stonewall Inn, 2016. Image courtesy of Rhododentrites, Wikimedia Commons.

A “Raided Premises” sign from the Stonewall Uprising, now located inside the Stonewall Inn, 2016. Image courtesy of Rhododentrites, Wikimedia Commons.

In a related effort, thanks to the generous support of the National Park Foundation, I am currently working with Stonewall staff to organize and facilitate a two-day roundtable exploring the historic and long-term significance of the Stonewall Uprising. We have assembled an inspiring team of LGBTQ scholars who, over the course of a few days, will work together to articulate the multiple strains of the event’s impact.

The creation of the park’s foundation document will be a many-phase process, involving multiple rounds of public input as well as an engagement with current scholarship and experts in the field. It is exciting to see the process beginning and to have the privilege of being involved.

Back in the Classroom


Last month, I took a little road trip down to Murfreesboro, Tennessee, to take part in the Maymester program at Middle Tennessee State University (MTSU). MTSU has one of the few PhD programs in public history in the US, and Maymester provides a condensed semester (in May) that allows the program to access public history practitioners as teachers, because the abbreviated schedule fits better to real time work commitments elsewhere.

Picture of Susan Ferentinos with students

Students and I during my visit to the MTSU freedom struggles class.

MTSU Professor Louis Kyriakoudes, director of the Albert Gore Research Center, invited me to be a guest lecturer in his graduate Maymester class on “Interpreting, Archiving, and Preserving Freedom Struggles.” I commend Dr. Kyriakoudes, first, for recognizing that LGBTQ political activism falls into a larger historical trajectory of movements in support of expanded civil rights and, second, for organizing such a creative course.

The first few days began with guest lecturer Curtis Austin, author of Up Against a Wall: Violence in the Making and Unmaking of the Black Panther Party, talking to the class about African American freedom struggles. The rest of the first week went to my visit, as I discussed the history of LGBTQ activism with students. The second week involved a field visit to various museums and archives in Atlanta, followed by a week-long digital history project the students were responsible for.

During my visit to the class, I gave the students a quick overview of the history of LGBTQ activism, and argued that scholarly writing on LGBTQ history has followed patterns that are related to various trends in the movement. I also used the recent listing of the House of the Furies on the National Register of Historic Places as a case study. The Furies Collective, which operated in Washington, DC, in the early 1970s, created much of the theory behind lesbian separatism. The historic designation of a property associated with the group marks a new phase in the government’s thinking about historical significance, and I wanted both to make the students aware of this and also to discuss with them the implications of a property associated with such radical ideas entering into a preservation program ran by the federal government.

The MTSU students did not disappoint. I am still coming to terms with how quickly LGBTQ circumstances are changing, and the subsequent ripple effects into the ways we preserve and commemorate the struggles that got us to this historical moment. So, my visit with the MTSU students was much more an exploration than a lecture. I’m happy to say that these future public history practitioners gave me a lot to think about and renewed me with their unique perspectives on the tides of political activism and the importance of the work we do to understand, preserve, and interpret these memories.

American Alliance of Museums Announces Social Media Journalists for MuseumExpo 2017


On Sunday, May 7, 2017, museum professionals from across the country will convene in St. Louis for MuseumExpo, the largest annual gathering of people working across the spectrum of museums (art, history, science, children’s, etc.). The conference is organized by the American Alliance of Museums (AAM) and offers various tracks to help attendees hone in on the information they most need; evening events provide an array of networking opportunities; and the expo hall offers a mind-boggling array of goods and services for the museum community.

The organization is piloting a new program at this year’s meeting, and has selected eleven people from across the museum profession to serve as social media journalists. I’m excited to announce that I am part of this select group, whose purpose is to build a bridge between conversations taking place at the conference and those tuning in through social media. The AAM social media journalists will also be creating a series of blog posts reflecting on these conversations once the annual meeting has concluded.

Face of the 2017 social media journalists

The theme of the 2017 conference is “Gateways for Understanding: Diversity, Equity, Accessibility, and Inclusion in Museums,” and we social media journalists will each be exploring the ways the theme plays out in the conference presentations and events. We each bring a unique perspective to the task, having worked in a variety of museum positions and representing a range of genders, generations, ethnicities, sexual identities, and interests. For my part, I’ll be paying special attention to the theme’s implications for historical organizations and for LGBTQ and women-focused interpretation and inclusion. I will mostly be reporting via Twitter, with some additional comments via my professional Facebook page and posts on my website blog.

The event runs May 7-10, 2017. You can follow along on social media at #AAM2017 and follow the AAM social media journalists specifically at #AAMSMJ. If you’d like to follow me directly on Twitter, you can do so at @HistorySue (tweeting as myself) and @NCWHS (tweeting items relevant to interpreting women’s history, under the auspices of the National Collaborative for Women’s History Sites).

Find out more about the other AAM social media journalists here. And see you in St. Louis!

Upcoming Webinar with the American Association for State and Local History


Rainbow Flag painted on old wood plank background

 

On Thursday, May 4, 2017, at 3:00 pm eastern time, I will be partnering with the American Association for State and Local History (AASLH) to offer a ninety-minute webinar on “Interpreting Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender History at Museums and Historic Sites.” This workshop will be based on my book by the same name, which was published as part of AASLH’s series “Interpreting History.”

Since it would be difficult to condense the entire book into this format, I will be focusing the webinar on initial interpretive planning, including:

  • Deciding if the time is right for your organization to interpret LGBT history
  • Trust building
  • Approaching the sources
  • Conceptualizing your story

The webinar is $40 for AASLH members; $65 for non-members. It will include a sixty-minute real-time presentation and up to thirty minutes for questions and discussion, along with ongoing access to the webinar recording and a discount for 30 percent off the purchase of my book Interpreting LGBT History at Museums and Historic Sites. Registration remains open until the start of webinar, but registering early will help us plan appropriately.

Making LGBTQ History American History: A Public Conversation on Stonewall National Monument and Beyond


Flyer advertising the event

All the details about this talk.

In 2016, President Barack Obama designated the Stonewall National Monument in New York City to commemorate the 1969 Stonewall Uprising, which sparked the modern LGBTQ rights movement. This month, I will be moderating a public conversation with Joshua Laird and Beth Savage, who in different ways have both contributed to the preservation and recognition of this site as an important part of the history of the United States.

As a National Park Service employee working on the National Register of Historic Places in the 1990s, Beth Savage was involved in the nomination of the Stonewall Inn to the National Register, which made it the first property related to LGBTQ history to receive this federal recognition. Now, nearly twenty years later, the site has become a part of the National Park Service, and Joshua Laird, as Commissioner of the National Parks of New York Harbor, oversees the stewardship of this historic site. During our public discussion, I will be interviewing the speakers about their experiences with this landmark historic site as well as the changes they’ve observed in the public’s understanding of what constitutes the national past. We will then welcome audience members to ask their own questions and participate in the conversation.

The event will be held at 6:00 p.m. on Friday, April 21, 2017 at the Westin Hotel in Indianapolis. The talk is free and open to the public, and will also serve as the plenary event of the National Council on Public History Annual Meeting. If you are unable to make it in person, you can follow along on Twitter at #ncph2017 #plenary.

For more on the designation of Stonewall as a national monument, watch the video below.

 

“Interpreting the Queer Past” at Mathers Museum, March 3


I will be giving a talk entitled “Interpreting the Queer Past” at the Mathers Museum of World Cultures on Friday, March 3, 2017 from 4:30 to 6:00 pm. The Mathers Museum is located in Bloomington, Indiana, my home base, which makes this talk especially exciting for me, since it’s been a number of years since I gave a talk in my own town.

“Interpreting the Queer Past” is aimed primarily at a general audience, with a little content that will be most relevant to other museum professionals. I will offer a snapshot of the various ways museums are introducing LGBTQ stories into their programming, then consider what we can learn from these efforts as museums move forward with this topic. There will be plenty of time for discussion as well.

If you do make it to the talk, please come up afterward and say hello!

 

Poster for the talk

History Exhibit Opens at the Buskirk-Chumley Theater


Picture of exhibit

Exhibit opening at the Buskirk-Chumley Theater in Bloomington, February 3, 2017

Last week, an exhibit I’ve been working on for a number of years opened at the Buskirk-Chumley Theater“A Thing of Beauty and a Joy Forever”: The History of Bloomington’s Community Theater recounts the history of a nearly-century-old venue just off the downtown square in Bloomington, Indiana. Today, the building is known as the Burkirk-Chumley Theater, a six-hundred-seat performing arts venue that has played a significant role in the revitalization of downtown Bloomington over the past fifteen years. Before that, the building housed the Indiana Theatre, an 1,100-seat movie palace built in 1922.

The designer and the researcher in front of an exhibit panel.

Jennifer Hottell (right) and I in front of the opening panel of our exhibit.

 

The roots of the current exhibit go back about ten years, when I conducted preliminary research into the history of the building, which is part of the Bloomington Downtown Square National Register District. From this project came a much more basic exhibit designed to answer some common questions from visitors about the history of the theater, which–after a period of decline–was renovated to reflect its 1930s heyday as part of its conversion into a contemporary performing arts hall.

A few years ago, the theater received funding from Indiana Humanities to conduct further research into two aspects of the Indiana Theatre’s past: the desegregation of the theater in the 1940s and the immigrant history represented by the Indiana Sweet Shop, a candy store housed in one of the building’s storefronts, which operated for over sixty years. The effort involved the expansion of the original history exhibit to include both the new research and more of the original research than made it into the first exhibit.

I was brought on as the project historian, performing documentary research, conducting oral histories, and creating the text for the ultimate exhibit. Jennifer Hottell, a Bloomington-based graphic designer, joined the team to reconceptualize the visual presentation of the information. The final result–incorporating my research, Jenn’s design, and oversight and input from the Buskirk-Chumley’s executive director Danielle McClelland–is a multi-media exploration of this theater, Bloomington history, and the movie palace era in general. It will be on permanent display at the Buskirk-Chumley until the theater’s hundredth anniversary in 2022.

One of the exhibit panels.

The exhibit panel discussing the theater’s desegregation.

The technology panel of the exhibit.

The exhibit panel exploring the changing technology of showing movies.

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