Archive for Historic Preservation

ARCUS Preservation Leadership Academy

Last week, I submitted my final requirement to complete the ARCUS Historic Preservation Leadership Academy. This program provides a year-long professional development experience for current and future leaders in the cultural heritage and historic preservation professions.

ARCUS is a product of Preservation50, a coalition of over a hundred historic preservation organizations working together to commemorate the fiftieth anniversary of the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966, the law that still forms the framework of U.S. preservation policy. Preservation50 had five major goals, one of which was to “prepare the heritage preservation movement’s future leaders.” ARCUS was the result. (You can learn more about the other goals of the coalition here.)

The development of the academy was headed up by Cultural Heritage Partners and funded by American Express, a company with a history of supporting preservation initiatives. The program entailed an in-person orientation program, where members of a cohort got to know each other and the program administrators, followed by a year’s worth of online training modules and ongoing opportunities to network and build relationships with fellow students.

I was accepted into the inaugural class of ARCUS fellows, which has now just graduated. All courses of study for this cohort wrapped up at the end of January, when I officially completed my ARCUS Professional Fellowship.  To earn this credential, I completed training in twenty training modules:

  • Some of the cultural resources in need of protection at Bandelier National Monument.


  • Budgeter
  • Convener
  • Entrepreneur
  • Evaluator
  • Fundraiser
  • Grassroots Organizer
  • Grasstops Organizer
  • Historian
  • Human Resources Manager
  • Native American Partner
  • Office Manager
  • Orator
  • Planner
  • Risk Mitigator
  • Social Media Maven
  • Trusted Source
  • Visionary
  • Volunteer Coordinator
  • Writer

Although I knew a lot about some aspects of the training, I knew virtually nothing about other skill-sets. Overall, the twenty modules offered a well-rounded perspective on work in the preservation field, and I completed the training with a wider sense of where I fit into the larger effort to preserve cultural resources. If you’re interested in learning more about this program, visit the ARCUS website here.



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.



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.”



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.

Thinking about Alfred Kinsey’s Legacy

Portrait of Alfred Kinsey

Alfred Kinsey. Image courtesy of Proyecto Historiador 2, Wikimedia Commons.

A few weekends ago, the Kinsey Institute for Research in Sex, Gender, and Reproduction hosted a day-long event to celebrate its seventieth anniversary. Founded by sexologist Alfred Kinsey in 1947, the institute is an independent research center located on the campus of Indiana University and continues to make insightful inroads into our understanding of human sexuality. The anniversary events provided a nice balance of exploring current research being conducted at the institute and pondering the organization’s history, particularly the legacy of its founder, author of the famed “Kinsey Reports”—officially titled Human Behavior in the Human Male (1948) and Human Behavior in the Human Female (1953)—which shocked the mid-twentieth-century United States by offering a detailed study of what white Americans were actually doing sexually.

While I am not affiliated with the Kinsey Institute, I have been thinking a lot about Alfred Kinsey’s legacy lately. I am in the process of preparing a nomination to add the Alfred C. Kinsey House to the National Register of Historic Places. Part of this process involves articulating the historical significance of the person associated with the property—basically detailing the impact Kinsey had on U.S. history. In this nomination, I argue that the professor from Indiana University was significant both to the history of scientific thought and to social history.

Within the realm of science, I emphasize three of Kinsey’s contributions, which changed scientific understanding of sexuality:

  • His team’s methodology, which went far beyond anything previously undertaken in the field of sexology, entailing live interviews with over 18,000 people from a range of backgrounds;
  • His argument that what was then seen as sexually deviant behavior (same-sex sexual behavior, masturbation, premarital sexual activity, for example) was in fact commonactivities that represented simple variation within the human species;
  • His introduction of the Kinsey Scale as a means of understanding human sexual identity on a spectrum, rather than the rigidly binary categories of homosexual and heterosexual.

In the realm of U.S. social history, I argue that Kinsey’s findings about sexual behavior in the United States created a national upheaval in moral systems that prompted some to call for a rethinking of sexual taboos—a precursor to the sexual revolution that would happen a decade after Kinsey’s study—and prompted others to perceive a crisis of moral values, which in turn triggered the retrenchment of conservative family ideals in the 1950s. For LGBTQ individuals, Kinsey’s findings offered evidence that sexual and gender variance were more common than previously thought, and this news inspired people to seek others who shared their desires. The result was both burgeoning LGBTQ subcultures and the start of a nascent political movement (known as the homophile movement).
This National Register nomination is currently under review, and some of its arguments for Kinsey’s significance may change during the revision period. For now, though, these thoughts are a quick summary of what I see as the nature of Alfred Kinsey’s legacy on American sexual thought.

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.

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.


Government Report on LGBTQ History

lgbtqcover_sm_3In October, the National Park Service released what may be the first federal report on the history of LGBTQ communities. LGBTQ America: A Theme Study of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Queer America was funded by the Gill Foundation and completed under the auspices of the National Park Foundation. Its purpose is to provide cultural resource managers and historic preservation professionals a framework for understanding this history and guidelines for identifying and preserving historic properties related to these experiences.

I am honored to be a co-author of this groundbreaking work, contributing the chapter on “Interpreting LGBTQ Historic Sites.

The LGBTQ Theme Study is part of a larger park service initiative to “tell all Americans’ stories,” which has involved a variety of efforts to preserve and interpret sites related to underrepresented communities within the U.S. A summary of the agency’s efforts in regard to LGBTQ history is available here.

In addition to the theme study, the park service has also recognized multiple properties related to LGBTQ history, designating them as National Historic Landmarks or adding them to the National Register of Historic Places. The agency is also partnering with HistoryPin to gather crowdsourced information on additional LGBTQ historic sites.


The views and conclusions contained in this document are those of the author and should not be interpreted as representing the opinions or policies of the U.S. Government. Mention of trade names or commercial products does not constitute their endorsement by the U. S. Government.

The Value of Conferences

Early spring is conference season in my field, and even though it can make for an intense few weeks, I usually attend two or three conferences during the months of March, April, and May. I’m a big believer in the value of conferences. I consistently return from these gatherings inspired by new ideas and having developed new skills. In addition, I find these events rewarding on an interpersonal level; they allow me an opportunity to catch up with professional colleagues and meet new people working in content areas similar to mine. I’ve developed a wide network over decades of conference-going, and these folks provide crucial input for me as I brainstorm ideas for new projects, seek informational resources on difficult questions, or weigh in on the challenging public history issues of the moment.


A sign from historic Printer’s Alley in Nashville, Tennessee. Photo by Susan Ferentinos.

My first conference of 2015 took place in mid-April when I attended the annual meeting of the National Council on Public History (twitter hashtag: #NCPH2015) in Nashville, Tennessee. Happily, a number of NCPH sessions intersected with my own current projects, and I was particularly energized by sessions exploring ways to increase the representation of women at historic sites and advocating for public historians to embrace the role of “History Communicators” who engage the public with a historical perspective on contemporary issues.

The week after NCPH, I was again on the conference trail, this time heading to Kokomo, Indiana, for the Indiana Preserving Historic Places Conference (Twitter hashtag: #INPHP2015). I am an semi-regular attendee of this gathering of Indiana historic preservation professionals, usually making it to the conference every two or three years. Much of this year’s conference revolved around the theme of preserving industrial heritage, and Kokomo–with its history as a site of glass manufacturing and its ongoing role in automobile production–provided an excellent backdrop to the exploration of these issues.

Kokomo Opalescent Glass Factory, Kokomo, Indiana. Photo by Susan Ferentinos.

Kokomo Opalescent Glass Factory, Kokomo, Indiana. Photo by Susan Ferentinos.

Industrial sites present unique challenges to preservationists. Their physical scale is far greater than many other historic sites and can make re-use a challenge. The presence of heavy machinery and other potentially dangerous features increases liability issues, and often the brownfields left behind require particular government-mandated procedures during preservation efforts. Nevertheless, one cannot adequately understand the history of the United States without considering the role of manufacture in the country’s economic development. In my own experience, I have had some of my most powerful experiences as a historian while touring such monuments to this heritage as Lowell National Historic Site in Massachusetts and the Sloss Iron Furnaces National Historic Landmark in Birmingham, Alabama.

The Kokomo trip brought an end to my spring-time traveling for conferences, but the exposure to new ideas and the networking continues. A virtual conference on PhD’s working outside of the academy, Beyond the Professoriate 2015 (Twitter hashtag: #BeyondProf), took place online May 2 and 9. Such discussions, which often fall under the umbrella term “Alt-Ac” (Twitter hashtag: #altac), tend to focus on the initial transition of graduate students from their academic training into the wider world. Despite being well along in my own career, I attended this conference as a means of learning about other people’s experiences. For the 2014-2015 academic year, I have been working with graduate students at Indiana University, helping them prepare for a broad job search that is not confined to academic positions. The Beyond the Professoriate conference provided a nice block of time to gather my thoughts about the alt-ac process, while taking part in a larger conversation about the topic.

All told, I covered a broad range of professional interests during my spring 2015 conference season. I predict I’ll be implementing ideas spurred by these travels for months to come.


Publications and Press: Summer 2014 Redux

It has been an intense and rewarding summer 2014, and I have been so busy finishing my book, beginning new projects, and talking about history far and wide that I am overdue at posting an update on where you might learn more about my work. So with this post, let me quickly review this summer’s publications and press mentions.

In June, the National Park Service launched an LGBT History Initiative, and as a companion, the Summer 2014 issue of National Parks, a publication of the National Parks Conservation Association, published an article about LGBT history in the programs of the National Park Service. In the course of writing the article, author Rona Marech, and I had a long and inspiring conversation on the topic, and some of my thoughts are quoted in her article, “Untold Stories.”

In July, I made my guest-blogging debut by contributing an article to Public History Commons. This online community, sponsored by the National Council on Public History (NCPH), is a remarkable clearing-house of the latest thinking on the presentation and interpretation of the past to a wide audience. My particular contribution was in response to a call made by Robert Weyeneth, recent NCPH President, for public historians to “lift the veil” on our work and share with museum visitors the actual process by which professional historians learn about the past. My article, “Lifting Our Skirts: Sharing the Sexual Past with Visitors,” argues that LGBT history is a subject that is particularly well-suited to this enterprise.

Screen shot of "Lifting our Skirts" article

In August, as I mentioned in my last blog post, I gave a talk on “Historic Preservation as a Green Alternative,” and, happily, this topic sparked some local interest. WFHB, Bloomington, Indiana’s community radio station, recorded my talk and later aired it on their regional news show, “Standing Room Only.” It’s now available as a podcast. In addition, my local newspaper The Bloomington Herald Times followed up with me and ended up publishing an article on the subject in their weekly environmental column. “Environmental Sustainability Also Applies to Buildings,” by Laura Slavin, offers a local perspective on some of the larger issues I touched on in my talk.

I am so happy that the work I’m doing is being recognized in the press; it is rewarding to share the larger relevance of history with a wide audience, and media outlets help with that effort by spreading the good word. You can keep current on my latest publications and press mentions any time by consulting the “Media” page of this web site.

Historic Preservation as a Green Alternative

Historic light fixtures using energy efficient bulbs

Public Domain photo from the US General Services Administration

History is everywhere. That’s one of the reasons I enjoy this work so much. I have given talks on the Golden Age of Hollywood at a movie-lover’s birthday party. I have sat in a room of wildlife biologists and argued for the need to protect cultural resources, as well as natural ones, from the negative effects of climate change. I have chatted over cocktails with business leaders about the role of local history in maintaining the economic health of small towns. These conversations, which invariably stray outside my comfort zone and bring me into contact with fresh perspectives, offer a chance for me to advocate for history’s relevance and to grow as a professional.

On Wednesday, August 27 (2014), I’ll once again be courting inspiration from different disciplines when I give a talk to Green Drinks Bloomington. Green Drinks is an informal monthly gathering of people from a variety of occupations who share an interest in creating a greener world. In Bloomington, the crowd is usually a boisterous mix of scientists, activists, organic farmers, and politicians. The discussions are always interesting and help bring me up to speed on environmental issues large and small–from national lobbying efforts to innovative programs playing out in my own small corner of south-central Indiana.

Like the rest of the Green Drinkers, I care about crafting a greener future, but unlike many of them, my expertise is culture, and when dreaming of the future, I turn to the past for guidance. I’m curious if others will agree with me that previous generations left us lessons in sustainability that are relevant today. So on August 27, I’ll be speaking to the Green Drinks crowd about “Historic Preservation as a Green Alternative.” We in the historic preservation field are familiar with the idea  that “the greenest building is the one already built.” Much has been written on the energy efficiency of restoring historic buildings rather than building new. I hope to share some of that thinking with an audience who may not have heard this argument before. I also hope to spark a conversation about the benefit historical-mindedness can bring to the environmental movement. I’m inclined to say, people who develop empathy and respect for their ancestors are more likely to make choices that take future generations into consideration. The past and the future work in tandem.

If you happen to be in Bloomington, Indiana, on Wednesday and would like to join in the dialogue, please join me at Green Drinks. Details about time and place can be found here.

Historic Preservation: The Original Green

Image from the blog of the Wichita Orpheum,

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