Archive for Public History

Year in Review: 2017


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

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

 

Projects

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

Jennifer Hottell jumping for joy.

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

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

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

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

 

Workshops and Talks

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

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

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

 

Writing

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

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

Queer London and Beyond


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lobby of the British Museum

The British Museum. Image by Susan Ferentinos

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

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

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

 

 

Planning 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.

LGBTQ Welcoming Guidelines for Museums


Last year, I served as one of nearly forty advisors and contributors to an effort by the American Alliance of Museums (AAM) to create guidelines for museums in welcoming LGBTQ visitors and employees. Coordinated by the LGBTQ Alliance of AAM, LGBTQ Welcoming Guidelines for Museums debuted in May 2016. Based on AAM’s Standards of Excellence, the guidelines provide a workbook of concrete steps for museums to take in creating community spaces where people of various sexual and gender identities feel safe and comfortable. The document also provides a glossary of vocabulary that is useful to know when doing outreach to LGBTQ communities, as well as flagging a few problematic and derogatory words that should be avoided.

Cover of the Welcoming Guidelines

Now, the AAM is planning a series of “colleague discussions” about the guidelines. Between November 6 and 9, 2017, in more than twenty locations from Washington State to Florida, museum professionals will gather to discuss the document and brainstorm about how they might put it to work in their home institutions. According to the AAM: “The goal of these local convenings is to help museum colleagues better understand how to use the Welcoming Guidelines and how they can be applied in all types of institutions. Participants will briefly discuss the goals of the Welcoming Guidelines, review the document, and work through an exercise that is relevant to their institution.”

There is no cost to attend a convening, though an RSVP is requested. You can learn more about the events, specific times and locations, and RSVP at the following information page.

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.

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.

Reflecting on the American Alliance of Museums Conference


Image of buttons stating an individual's pronoun preference

Pronoun buttons at AAM, via @exposyourmuseum

In early May, I attended the annual conference of the American Alliance of Museums (AAM), serving as one of eleven designated social media journalists for the event. The theme of this year’s gathering was “Gateways for Understanding: Diversity, Equity, Accessibility, and Inclusion,” and the social media journalists were specifically tasked with exploring this theme.

Now, I am no stranger to conferences. I’ve been to scores of them over the course of my career, and in my experience, most annual conferences pay only cursory attention to the conference theme. But this conference was different. From the moment attendees arrived, AAM sent a message of inclusion with signs stating the conference’s open policy on bathroom use (i.e., attendees could choose to use whatever bathrooms best expressed their gender identity, no questions asked) and offering attendees the opportunity to make buttons indicating their preferences for personal pronouns.

I’d estimate that at least half of the sessions and all of the keynote events were focused on Diversity, Equity, Accessibility, and Inclusion, exploring the topic from a range of angles including visitor experiences, community outreach, social justice work, hiring and training, leadership practices, and creating a welcoming work environment. My professional work revolves around diversity and inclusion, and yet I still found plenty of new ideas to ponder, debate, and execute.

Picture of the comment board that appeared at the conference

AAM comment board about the slave auction display, from an article at https://blooloop.com/features/aam-2017-american-museums/

About halfway through the conference, our explorations of Diversity, Equity, Accessibility, and Inclusion veered beyond the established program when controversy erupted over a vendor display in the Expo hall. A company specializing in creating life-like figures for museum exhibitions had brought a depiction of a slave trader and enslaved person at auction to demonstrate the company’s product. Many attendees found it offensive that such an upsetting event would be displayed in a contemporary marketplace, devoid of historical context. A lively discussion erupted throughout the conference and on Twitter (see #aam2017slaveauction). AAM staff contacted the company about attendees’ concerns and soon added a comment panel related to the slave auction display, soliciting reactions from conference attendees.

On the last morning of the conference, concerned attendees convened at the company’s booth to discuss the issue with the company owner. Dina Bailey, CEO of Mountain Top Vision, LLC, stepped in to facilitate a dialogue, which–from my perspective–created a far richer exchange.

I was happy to see a dialogue about the depiction. Hopefully, all sides gained some understanding and empathy through the process, although–judging from the Twitter feed–many were left dissatisfied with the discussion. For me personally, I felt that this issue provided a real-time example of the hard work ahead if we truly hope to build understanding and create a world that honors Diversity, Equity, Accessibility, and Inclusion in deed as well as word.

For those who want to engage further with these issues:

  • Check out the Twitter hashtag #aam2017slaveauction to learn more about various reactions to the display
  • Read Seema Rao’s blog post, “Seven Action Steps Post- #AAM2017SlaveAuction #AAM2017
  • Look through the session recordings and handouts from the conference to find materials on various aspects of the conference theme
  • Read some of Dina Bailey’s writings, which appear in larger volumes that are also relevant to the topic:
    • “The Necessity of Community Involvement: Talking about Slavery in the 21st Century,” (co-written with Richard C. Cooper) in Interpreting Slavery at Museums and Historic Sites, edited by Kristin L. Gallas and James DeWolf Perry (Rowman & Littlefield, 2015)
    • “Finding Inspiration Inside: Engaging Empathy to Empower Anyone,” in Fostering Empathy through Museums, edited by Elif M. Gokcigdem (Rowman & Littlefield, 2016)

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.

“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

Susan Ferentinos is proudly powered by WordPress.
Theme "The Fundamentals of Graphic Design" by Arjuna
Icons by FamFamFam