Archive for Appearances

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.

Year in Review: 2016


As is my habit at the end of the year, I took a few minutes this morning to reflect on the past twelve months–to note the achievements and ponder how to make next year even more productive and full of joy. (Happily, when you love your work, those two goals tend go hand in hand!)

Personally and professionally, for me, 2016 was great. I reached a number of milestones, expanded my client base, and began applying my expertise to a wider range of historical endeavors.

Perhaps the most exciting news of the year was that my book, Interpreting LGBT History at Museums and Historic Sites, won the 2016 book award from the National Council on Public History! It was such an honor. And, coincidentally, for the next few days, the book is on sale at the publisher’s website. You can save 35% by using the code RLWEB3516.

In other publication news, the National Park Service released its LGBTQ Heritage Theme Study, to which I contributed (and about which you can read here). I published a book review (and just submitted another one!) in CHOICE and an exhibit review in The Public Historian. In addition, I published three articles:

This year, I also co-facilitated a learning lab–“LGBTQ for Me and You”–at the PastForward conference, the annual gathering of the National Trust for Historic Preservation. Speaking at this conference is by invitation only, so it was an honor to be invited. In addition, this past year I served on the plenary panel of the Hoosier Women at Work conference; presented at the American Association for State and Local History, The Future of History Graduate Education, and the Organization of American Historians conferences; and gave talks at the University of Massachusetts, IUPUI, President Lincoln’s Cottage, and the Van Abbemuseum.

When I wasn’t writing or speaking, I was consulting, and 2016 saw me begin working with a number of new clients. They include:

I look forward to writing more about these projects in the new year! I also did some pro bono consulting with the Congressional Commission on an American Women’s History Museum, which recently submitted its report to Congress and the President of the United States.

Finally, during 2016 I began to stretch myself a bit intellectually. Although much of my work the past few years has focused on women’s history and LGBTQ interpretation in museums, I am in the process of reaching out to encompass other areas of expertise. I served as acting executive director of the National Council on Public History for three months this past summer, and I am currently working on multiple historic preservation projects as well as an article on the history of sexuality more generally (that is, beyond LGBTQ expressions).

What a year! I can’t wait to see what new adventures 2017 brings along.

Special Guests a Priority at Van Abbemuseum


Photo of the Van Abbemseum

The Van Abbemuseum, photo by Maurizio Pesce.

Last week, I had the pleasure of speaking at the Van Abbemuseum, a contemporary art museum in Eindhoven, Netherlands. My talk was part of a larger day-long symposium on “Special Guests,” and the audience was comprised of museum professionals from across the Netherlands and northern Belgium.

Explanation of the “Qwearing the Collection” program at the Van Abbemuseum.

It is fitting that the Van Abbemuseum should be the host for this kind of event, as they have made a consistent effort to welcome a range of visitors, who may or may not experience the museum in the usual ways. I first heard about this museum because of their “Unforgettable Van Abbe” program aimed at people with Alzheimer’s disease. In addition, the facility is equipped with a robot that provides access to the museum for visitors who are homebound.

The museum welcomes others as well. Near the entrance desk, there is a “Toolshop” where visitors can select various means “that offer a new perspective on the exhibition.” Tools include “hearable architecture,” “inhaling art,” and “the collection through kids’ eyes.” Another tool is the Van Abbe’s “Qwearing the Collection” program, where guests are invited to wear clothing that provides a queer interpretation of the art under view, as well as a queer glossary of terms that visitors may not already be familiar with.

I fully embraced “Qwearing the Collection,” because it provides a two-fold glimpse into queer experience. The program most obviously does this by interpreting part of the collection with a queer eye, pointing out the subtle critiques of normative gender roles and sexual expression that might normally escape the average visitor’s notice.

Me, sporting my queer interpretive kimono, Van Abbemuseum

The program also queers the visitor experience by allowing folks to encode themselves in queer and flamboyant ways. Although I don’t normally “read” as LGBTQ to strangers, at the Van Abbemuseum I was able to swish around the collection in a “Qwearing the Collection” kimono and bright yellow scarf. Those who did not know about the program just thought I was odd; those who did know about the program understood that, by wearing these accessories, I was signaling my interest in a queer point of view. This led to numerous conversations with strangers and a special-club nod across a gallery from another visitor wearing this program’s accoutrements. In this way, the “Qwearing the Collection” props mimicked the experience of being part of a semi-secret subculture, where members adjust their appearance in ways that may not be understood by mainstream society, but serves as a signal for others who identity with the same subculture that you are friend, not foe. Brilliant!

My time at the Van Abbe, along with the other innovative museums I visited while in the Netherlands, were a breath of fresh air for me, providing so many new ideas on museum practice. I look forward to pondering my experience further and applying what I learned in the Netherlands to my projects here in the states and elsewhere.

 

Upcoming Appearances, September 2016


If you would like to talk to me or hear me speak this month, Detroit is the place to be! I will be attending the annual meeting of the American Association for State and Local History September 15th through 17th, and in the course of those three days, I’ll be participating in three roundtable discussions and a tour of a local historic site.

ih-series-signing-smaller-posterOn Thursday, September 15, 2016, at 3:00 pm local time, Rowman & Littlefield Publishers will be hosting a reception for the authors of their “Interpreting History” series, which includes my book Interpreting LGBT History at Museums and Historic Sites. Stop by the conference exhibit hall to learn more about the series and to chat with the authors, including myself.

Immediately following Thursday’s publisher reception, at 4:00 pm on September 15, 2016, I’ll be taking part in a public discussion about the book with Russell Lewis, chief historian of the Chicago History Museum and editor of the Rowman & Littlefield series. We’ll be chatting with the audience about the state of LGBT interpretation, as well as suggesting some best practices. This field is evolving at lightening speed, so I’m looking forward to a chance to discuss developments that have occurred since the book’s publication at the start of 2015.

The next day, Friday, September 16, I’ll have the opportunity to whip out my women’s history hat. I’ll be joining Rebecca Price, CEO of ChickHistory, and Lori Osborne, vice-president for operations of the National Collaborative for Women’s History, for a roundtable discussion on interpreting female friendship. This event takes place from 8:30 am until 9:45 am. We’ll be focusing primarily on the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, when many professional women chose not to marry and instead partnered with other women. What are we to make of these relationships? How do we talk about them to twenty-first-century visitors? Come join the conversation!

Dr. Bertha Van Hoosen, one of the women connected to Rochester Hills. National Library of Medicine, https://www.nlm.nih.gov/changingthefaceofmedicine/physicians/biography_322.html.

Dr. Bertha Van Hoosen, one of the women connected to Rochester Hills. National Library of Medicine, https://www.nlm.nih.gov/changingthefaceofmedicine/ physicians/biography_322.html.

As a complement to the Friday morning roundtable, at 1:30 pm on September 16, I’ll be taking part in an AASLH Women’s History Affinity Group tour of Rochester Hills Museum and Farm, a great-sounding historic site with generations of women’s stories to tell. We’ll tour the site, then facilitate a brainstorming session about how best to introduce stories of strong, non-conformist women to the wider public.

Finally, to wrap up this whirlwind, on Saturday morning, September 17, 2016, at 9:00 am, I’ll be part of a roundtable on women’s history more generally. We’ll be talking about integrating women’s stories into historic preservation, interpretation, and museum programming and tying women’s history to issues of contemporary gender equality. As with the earlier events, we’ll be looking to the audience to engage in the discussion and offer insight.

See you in Detroit!

Welcoming the Next Generation of Historians


Somewhere along the line, I won the mentor lottery. Wonderful, generous people have taken me under their wing at key moments of my career. They have patiently and subtly guided me through various stages of my development, and I still call on many of them quite frequently for advice and feedback.

One of my closest mentors, Paul Weinbaum (with his ever-present cup of coffee), demonstrating one of many environments where historians work.

One of my closest mentors, Paul Weinbaum (with his ever-present cup of coffee), demonstrating one of many environments where historians work.

While it seems like something of a long shot that I could ever replicate their calm, cool counsel, I am nevertheless aware of the debt I owe my elders, and as a result, I do seek out opportunities to meet newer members of our profession and take an interest in their journeys.

That comes into play most often with the students of the Indiana University Department of History (my PhD alma mater). The history department is now one of my clients, and I work with faculty and staff to provide career programming for history students. For the undergraduate history majors, I coordinate the department’s internship program, building relationships with the local history organizations that serve as internship sites, encouraging students to take the skills they’re learning in the classroom and apply them to off-campus work environments, and ensuring that all this match-making results in consistent and high-quality experiences for both intern and supervisor.

My work with graduate students is a little more involved. I am part of a larger effort within IU and the history department to prepare history graduate students for a range of careers that will use the research, writing, and analytical skills they are developing as young historians. This upcoming week, the department will welcome its latest cohort of graduate students, during a series of orientation activities held in advance of the start of classes.

I will be speaking with the students on their very first day of orientation, reminding them that career preparation is a crucial part of their graduate education and alerting them to the range of professional opportunities—not just the professoriate—that they might pursue. This talk aims to introduce them to a departmental culture that prizes versatility and an academic year that will include a range of workshops and encounters designed to increase their knowledge of the work world.

Also this week, I will have the opportunity to speak to the graduate students in the public history program at IU-Bloomington’s sister campus in Indianapolis, IUPUI. Before the start of each school year, the IUPUI program hosts a one-day career development and networking event for current graduate students and local alumni, and I will be giving this year’s keynote address. In my presentation, “Pulling Back the Curtain and Changing the Lens: Current Metaphors of Public History,” I will discuss the ways that my work with LGBTQ history has introduced me to new historical methods, and I will explore their applicability to the wider discipline of public history.

With these various efforts, I have a chance to share some of the insight I’ve gained during my career, while also meeting some of my future colleagues and staying involved in a rich conversation drawn from a range of generational perspectives.

And I have my mentors to thank for showing me how it’s done.

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