Archive for Writing

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.

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!

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.

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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: Spring and Summer 2015 Redux


Here’s a recap of writings and press mentions from the first half of 2015….

This past April, Queering the Museum published my guest blog post, “The Expanding Conversation.” If you are not yet familiar with the work the QTM folks are doing, you should definitely browse their website. In my post, I consider this group’s work in light of the larger conversation among museum professionals about how best to interpret LGBT experiences.

In June 2015, my first author interview related to my book, Interpreting LGBT History at Museums and Historic Sites, appeared on the blog of the Mid-Atlantic Regional Humanities Center. The interviewer, Linda Shopes, asked me some great questions that allowed me to probe little deeper into some topics that did not make it into the book. You can read the interview here.

Finally, also in June, author Danny Bernstein featured me in a post on her blog Hiker to Hiker. “Using a Public Historian for My Book” discusses some work I did for Danny related to her forthcoming volume, Forests, Alligators, Battlefields: My Journey through the National Parks of the South. It was a project I truly enjoyed, and I’ll be sure to post an announcement when the manuscript is published.

Academic Writing Month


At the writer's desk, with a pile of books on LGBT HistoryMy book, Interpreting LGBT History, is becoming a reality! Part of the “Interpreting History” series co-sponsored by The American Association for State and Local History and Rowman & Littlefield Publishing Group, my book focuses on the task of presenting Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender histories in museums and historic sites.

Using Academic Writing Month (or AcWriMo, as the hipsters like to say) as my incentive, I am working to have a full draft of the book completed by the end of November. So far, so good!

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