Archive for Public History

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

Upcoming Appearances, September 2016


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

See you in Detroit!

Welcoming the Next Generation of Historians


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Stint as Acting Director of the National Council on Public History


“NCPH INSPIRES PUBLIC ENGAGEMENT WITH THE PAST AND SERVES THE NEEDS OF PRACTITIONERS IN PUTTING HISTORY TO WORK IN THE WORLD BY BUILDING COMMUNITY AMONG HISTORIANS, EXPANDING PROFESSIONAL SKILLS AND TOOLS, FOSTERING CRITICAL REFLECTION ON HISTORICAL PRACTICE, AND PUBLICLY ADVOCATING FOR HISTORY AND HISTORIANS.” – NCPH MISSION STATEMENT –

 

Last week, I wrapped up three months as acting director of the National Council on Public History (NCPH), a professional organization that supports practitioners putting history to work in the world. I’ve been an active member of the NCPH for about fifteen years–regularly presenting at annual meetings and volunteering on numerous committees, most recently on the Local Arrangements Committee for the 2017 NCPH annual meeting, which will take place in Indianapolis in April 2017. The opportunity to further engage with the organization arose when the NCPH Board of Directors and executive director, Stephanie Rowe, approached me about filling in for Stephanie while she was out on maternity leave.

As many of you know, I worked for thirteen years at the Organization of American Historians, the largest professional society devoted to United States history. My recent time on staff at the NCPH allowed me to once again get behind the scenes at a historical organization and support the profession by fostering community among practitioners and providing assistance as they carry out their important work.

The NCPH is an extremely well-run institution, so jumping into such an important role proved to be easier than I was anticipating. In addition to overseeing the day-to-day operations of the non-profit, my projects included collaborating with the NCPH vice-president, Marla Miller, to appoint volunteers to the NCPH’s numerous committees; enhancing the NCPH’s partnership with the International Federation for Public History as the IFPH prepared for its annual meeting in Bogotá; and responding to input and advocacy requests from the organization’s members.

I enjoyed this chance to apply my skills and experience in an executive capacity while also assisting a historical organization with a short-term staffing shortage. I hope to take on similar efforts in the future, so please do let me know if you are aware of such opportunities.

Stephanie Rowe and Sue at the 2016 NCPH annual meeting in Baltimore, Maryland.

Stephanie Rowe and Sue at the 2016 NCPH annual meeting in Baltimore, Maryland.

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