Archive for LGBT History

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

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.

 

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.

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!

Upcoming Appearances


I will be making a number of appearances in the upcoming months, to discuss various issues related to LGBT museum interpretation.  If you attend these events, do be sure to introduce yourself to me afterwards, especially if you’re involved in a museum that is involved in, or considering, interpreting this topic.

Pride IN History LogoOctober 22, 2015

6:30-8:00 pm

Indianapolis, IN

 

As part of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender (LGBT) History Month, the Indiana Historical Society will be hosting a discussion about how museums discuss the history of and connect with LGBT communities. As part of this event I will be presenting information from my book Interpreting LGBT History at Museums and Historic Sites. Indianapolis photographer Mark A. Lee will also discuss his experience as a guest curator of the exhibition based on his work, on view at the History Center October 10 through November 14. Cost is $8/ $5 for IHS members. For more information, or to buy tickets, visit http://www.indianahistory.org/events/pride-in-history.

 

ncwhs logoOct. 26, 2015

3:00-4:00 pm eastern

 

The National Collaborative for Women’s History Sites is holding its annual member meeting via conference call on Monday, October 26 from 3:00 to 4:00 pm eastern time. I will be this year’s featured speaker. I will discuss the ways historians approach the study of same-sex relationships; the challenges to uncovering this past; and the efforts of museums, historic sites, and community groups to preserve this history and present it to the wider public. To learn more about the event and to register for the meeting, visit http://www.ncwhs.org/index.php/154-uncategorised/286-mark-the-date-for-our-annual-meeting.

 

2016-NCPHSHFG-Program-CoverMarch 16-19, 2016

(specific date TBA)

Baltimore, MD

Along with Frank Futral and Megan Springate, I will be co-facilitating a workshop entitled “Daring to Speak It’s Name: Interpreting Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer Pasts at Historic Sites” as part of the National Council on Public History annual meeting. In this workshop, we will consider best practices in LGBTQ museum interpretation and offer hands-on exercises in small groups. For exact time and more information, visit http://ncph.org/cms/conferences/2016-annual-meeting/.

 

April 7, 2016

1:45-3:15 pm

Providence, RI

As part of the Organization of American Historians annual meeting, I will be participating in a roundtable on “New Directions in LGBTQ Public History.” Almost from its inception as a field, Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender/ Queer (LGBTQ) history has been intertwined with public history as researchers created slideshow presentations, archives, and small exhibits about the history of LGBTQ experiences. Since then, people have created LGBTQ museums, cultural institutions have put up exhibits about topics on gender and sexuality, and most recently the National Park Service has embarked on several initiatives to incorporate LGBTQ history into its sites and programs. This roundtable will consist of public history practitioners and academics, who will discuss recent developments in the field, how public representations of this history have changed, and the complicated narratives of inclusions that have often accompanied them. For more information on the conference, visit http://www.oah.org/meetings-events/2016/.

 

 

“Interpreting LGBT History” Book Event at the Evanston History Center: March 26


The Chicago area is something of a hotbed of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender (LGBT) history. At the turn of the twentieth century, the first Americans to write about same-sex desire as an inborn condition were based in that city. In 1924, the first known organization for homosexual rights in the United States–the short-lived Society for Human Rights–was founded in Chicago by Henry Gerber. In June 1970, Chicago was one of four cities (along with New York, San Francisco, and Los Angeles) to hold the first Gay Pride parades. This metropolitan area was also a center of Progressive-Era reform, and thus was home to many famous women who chose to forego traditional marriage in favor of pursuing their professional ambitions while nurturing devoted relationships with other women.

Next week I’ll be traveling to the Chicago area to give a Women’s History Month lecture on LGBT history. This event will take place on Thursday, March 26, 2015 at the Evanston History Center, 225 Greenwood Street, in Evanston, Illinois. The festivities will begin at 6:30 pm with a reception, followed by my lecture at 7:00. Building on my recent book, I’ll discuss the challenges of uncovering the history of same-sex love and desire, with a special emphasis on female desire, which so often receives less attention than male sexuality. I’ll also consider some examples of local museums and historic sites that have grappled with the nuances of the LGBT past.

The event costs $10 and is open to the public. Reservations are encouraged and can be made by calling (847) 475-3410 or emailing membership@ncwhs.org. The lecture is co-sponsored by the National Collaborative for Women’s History Sites and the Evanston History Center.

See a Flier for the Talk.

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