Archive for National Park Service

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.

Planning Continues for Stonewall National Monument

Picture of Megan Springate and Susan Ferentinos standing in front of the sign for Stonewall National Monument

Megan Springate, NPS Advisor Extraordinaire, and I, making the pilgrimage.

As I mentioned last month, the United States now has its first national park site dedicated to Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer (LGBTQ) history: the Stonewall National Monument in New York City. This unit of the National Park Service (NPS) preserves the site of the 1969 Stonewall Uprising, which marked a major turning point in the movement to secure LGBTQ civil rights.

Planning is currently under way at the site, and I have been consulting with the NPS planning team as it prepares Stonewall’s foundation document, the articulation of concepts that will guide the park’s management and interpretation as it moves into the future. Last month, the site convened a team of seven scholars, representing various subfields of LGBTQ history, to take part in a two-day charrette exploring the historical significance of the events that took place at Stonewall.

The scholars were:

Needless to say, that was quite a team! Two days of exploring queer history with these thoughtful and creative scholars was one of the highlights of my career. As a follow-up to the event, each of the participants is writing up a summary of their main thoughts on the historical significance of Stonewall, and the NPS plans to post excerpts of these reports online sometime after the beginning of the new year. I will keep you posted.

Picture of the NPS employees involved in planning for Stonewall National Monument, as well as the scholars and Susan Ferentinos.

All the great folks who contributed to the Stonewall Scholars’ Charrette, October 2017

The views and conclusions contained in this article 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.

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.

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.


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.

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.

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.

Blithewold Mansion, Garden & Arboretum: Request for Proposals

Water Garden at Blithewold Mansion, Gardens & Arboretum

Water Garden, Blithewold Mansion, Gardens & Arboretum. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

For the past few months, I have been consulting with Blithewold Mansion, Garden, & Arboretum as the organization prepares to undertake a National Historic Landmark (NHL) nomination of its historically significant landscape. Overlooking Narrangansett Bay in Bristol, Rhode Island, Blithewold is a Country Place Era estate that magnificently blends landscape design, architecture, and decorative arts into an integrated whole. In addition to representing a outstanding example of this era of landscape design, Blithewold also allows for an exploration of the work of designer John DeWolf and the role of women in American landscape history, an aspect of the project I have particularly enjoyed.

Together with the excellent staff at Blithewold, Inc., we have now completed a plan for the nomination and posted a Request for Proposals (RFP) for parties interested in completing the NHL nomination. We seek individuals or teams with experience evaluating historic designed landscapes and expertise in American landscape history and women’s history. If you are interested in learning more, you can find the RFP posted at Deadline for proposals is July 1, 2014.

One Year Since “Telling the Whole Story”

Participants of "Telling the Whole Story"

Participants of “Telling the Whole Story.”

Last week, we passed the one-year anniversary of “Telling the Whole Story: Women and the Making of the United States,” a meeting of the minds held at the Sewall-Belmont House and Museum in Washington, DC, December 10-11, 2012. The symposium was a joint effort by the National Park Service and the National Collaborative for Women’s History Sites (NCWHS) and brought together an exciting array of women’s historians from both inside and outside the park service. I served as one of the organizers and facilitators of this event, and I deeply enjoyed seeing the passion and creativity generated by this gathering.

The event was part of a larger initiative by the NPS, assisted by NCWHS, to expand women’s representation in the history being told by the agency. And this initiative in turn is the outgrowth of a call made by then Secretary of the Interior Kenneth Salazar in March 2012. You can see a video of Salazar’s announcement at the end of this post.

The purpose of this symposium was to develop a specific set of recommendations for park service staff to strive for as they move forward with their goal of expanding women’s history. By the end of the two days, the group had developed nine recommendations, which we presented to Secretary Salazar. These suggestions were later distilled to eight concrete goals for the park service to pursue, addressing women’s history in NPS programs, national parks, agency policy, and community outreach. Catch all the details in the symposium report.

Two elements of the women’s history summit seemed to me to be particularly important. First, while the goals we developed are far-reaching in their potential to expand women’s history within the NPS, they intentionally dovetail with other efforts underway within the agency. For example, one of the goals calls for an NPS interpretive framework that is inclusive of the wide range of women’s experiences, a vision that is all the more likely to be accomplished because a revision of the framework (an official NPS document) is currently in process. By linking our goals to other initiatives within the agency, the team sought to accomplish substantive changes despite the current government climate of sequestration and scarcity.

A second noteworthy element of this effort was the substantial contribution by both the interpretive branch and the cultural resources branch of the NPS. The NPS lovers among us will remember that Imperiled Promise, the recent report on the state of history in the NPS, specifically called on these two divisions to work more closely in telling the American public about its past. “Telling the Whole Story” was an early example the agency putting Imperiled Promise into action.

“Telling the Whole Story” was just the first step in the park service’s larger women’s history initiative; work continues, guided by the recommendations developed a year ago.


Watch a two minute video about Secretary Salazar’s call to expand women’s history interpretation:

Reflecting on “Imperiled Promise”

Statue of Abraham Lincoln, Hodgenville KY.

Lincoln Statue, Hodgenville, KY. Home of Abraham Lincoln Birthplace National Historical Park.

Between 2009 and 2011, I had the pleasure to serve as project manager for team of historians–Marla Miller, Gary Nash, David Thelen, and Anne Whisnant–assessing the state of history within the National Park Service (NPS). The Organization of American Historians, working in partnership with the NPS, had engaged this team to take a comprehensive view of the national park system and its success at conveying the story of the nation’s history; reflect on ways the agency might improve upon its efforts; and write a report that would serve as a road map as the National Park Service move towards its centennial in 2016.

It was a special privilege to have a behind-the-scenes view as this amazing crew of historical thinkers grappled with the very real issues and constraints face by the NPS in protecting and interpreting cultural resources. The team’s report, Imperiled Promise: The State of History in the National Parks, was released in 2011, and I’m pleased to say that thus far it has avoided the fate of many government reports that end up languishing on office shelves a few months after their release. Instead, Imperiled Promise has sparked a s

National park ranger looking at Washington Monument

Photo by Susan Ferentinos

ubstantive effort on the part of the NPS and its supporters to implement the team’s recommendations and use the report as a launching point for a reinvigorated agency that respects the role both rangers and historians play in protecting and interpreting the nation’s historic treasures.

The report’s authors won an award in 2013 from the National Council on Public History, which stated that the report’s “incisive analysis supplies an agenda that will guide the practice of history in the NPS for decades to come.” More recently, Rutgers University–Camden last month hosted a symposium on the State of History in the National Park Service (#HistoryNPS), designed to continue the conversation begun by the report. Now, the blog History@Work has published a three-part series reflecting on the gathering called “Collegial Questioning: A New Forum on History in the U.S. National Park Service.” Check it out!


I am proud of my small contribution to this conversation, and I encourage the National Park Service to continue its efforts to build upon Imperiled Promise to provide an even richer field in which the public can explore the nation’s past.

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