Interpreting LGBT History at Museums and Historic Sites (Volume 4) (Interpreting History, 4)

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LGBT individuals and families are increasingly visible in popular culture and local communities; their struggles for equality appear regularly in news media. If history museums and historic sites are to be inclusive and relevant, they must begin incorporating this community into their interpretation. Interpreting LGBT History at Museums and Historic Sites is straightforward, accessible guidebook for museum and history professionals as they embark on such worthy efforts.

This book features:

  • An examination of queer history in the United States. The rapid rate at which queer topics have entered the mainstream could conceivably give the impression that LGBT people have only quite recently begun to contribute to United States culture and this misconception ignores a rich history. A brief overview of significant events in LGBT history highlights variant sexuality and gender in U.S. history, from colonization to the first decades of the twenty-first century.
  • Case studies on the inclusion and telling of LGBT history. These chapters detail how major institutions, such as the Chicago History Museum, have brought this topic to light in their interpretation.
  • An extensive bibliography and reading list. LGBT history is a fascinating story, and the limited space in this volume can hardly do it justice. These features are provided to guide readers to more detailed information about the contributions of LGBT people to U.S. history and culture.

This guide complements efforts to make museums and historic sites more inclusive, so they may tell a richer story for all people.


Timely and well-crafted, Interpreting LGBT History at Museums and Historic Sites is a must-read not only for professionals working with collections in museums, archives, libraries, and other cultural heritage institutions, but also for anyone in the communities they seek to engage. Ferentinos provides a convincing rationale for why LGBT history and interpretation matters, as well as a clear framework for how it can – and should – be shared. Readers will find much to consider, reference, and, perhaps more importantly, apply.

— Wesley J. Chenault, Head of Special Collections and Archives at James Branch Cabell Library, Virginia Commonwealth University Libraries

This groundbreaking work thoughtfully documents seminal projects in the interpretation of LGBT history and also lights a path forward for those committed to a more inclusive approach to public history.

— Bill Adair, director, Exhibitions and Public Interpretation, The Pew Center for Arts & Heritage

This book has something for everyone interested in history, museums, and historic site interpretation. The historical overview should be required reading for all who think they know the history of the United States. Curators, historic site managers, archivists, and librarians, among others, will discover many ways to challenge any preconceived ideas of the lives documented and interpreted in their collections or at their sites. Equally important, they will find myriad resources to answer their questions in this well-written and provocative volume.
— Barbara J. Howe, historian and associate professor emerita, West Virginia University

The 2016 National Council on Public History book award is presented to Susan Ferentinos for her groundbreaking work, Interpreting LGBT History at Museums and Historic Sites. This volume is published by Rowman and Littlefield as part of the new American Association of State and Local History (AASLH) series, Interpreting History. Ferentinos bases her work in sound scholarship, providing a concise history of the subject matter—quite an achievement when she clearly argues that there is not one lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) history, but many. Following the historical overview, Ferentinos introduces three well-chosen case studies, which are authored by practitioners in the field. The first case study by Jill Austin and Jennifer Brier focuses on LGBT exhibits; the second, by Kenneth C. Turino, on interpretation at LGBT-related sites; and the third, by Kyle Parsons and Stewart Van Cleve, on a museum education program for high school students. Each offers insight for public history practitioners and students on the ways to find and implement such programs at their sites and museums. Following these case studies, Ferentinos offers considerations and recommendations for those interested in interpreting LGBT history. Given the long history of denial, criminalization, and homophobia related to LGBT individuals, it is not surprising that most museums and historic sites ignored or lacked resources to address the topic in their collections and interpretation. Ferentinos demonstrates that these histories can be unearthed, explored, and presented to enrich our understanding of the past and fulfill the goal of inclusive, relevant, and valuable public history. The work serves not only as a history, but as a guidebook for archivists, curators, and interpreters, and a resource in academic public history programs — National Council on Public History Awards Committee

About the Author:

Susan Ferentinos is a public history researcher, writer, and consultant based in Bloomington, Indiana, where she specializes in historical project management and using the past to create community. She has lectured widely on the topic of interpreting LGBT history and recently served on the planning team for the National Park Service Women’s History Initiative. Dr. Ferentinos holds a Ph.D. in U.S. history with a focus on the history of gender and sexuality and a Master of Library Science with a concentration in special collections, both from Indiana University. She has served on the Board of the National Collaborative for Women’s History Sites and the Leadership Development Committee of the American Association for State and Local History.


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