The National Park Service’s LGBTQ America Theme Study: A Roundtable

AHA Session 103
Committee on Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender History 4
National Council on Public History 1
Friday, January 5, 2018: 10:30 AM-12:00 PM
Washington Room 2 (Marriott Wardman Park, Exhibition Level)
Nicholas Syrett, University of Kansas
John Jeffery Auer, Nevada LGBT Archives
Katie Batza, University of Kansas
Susan Ferentinos, public history consultant
Jeffrey A. "Free" Harris, Historic Preservation Consultant

Session Abstract

On October 11, 2016, the National Park Service released its theme study documenting the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ) past in the United States. The theme study, written and peer-reviewed by more than thirty experts in queer history and LGBTQ studies, had been more than two years in the making. It is designed to explore America’s queer past, recognize those landmarks that have already been preserved, and also spur greater conversations about what other sites might be commemorated and what other ways we can better understand America’s LGBT past. The study provides a rich and broad overview of the social history of LGBTQ experiences in America and also points forward to the ways that these experiences can better be understood and preserved.

This panel is dedicated to exploring the significance of LGBTQ America: A Theme Study of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer America, bringing together chapter authors and consultants on the study, all of whom have also worked in the field of public history to help preserve America’s LGBT past. Our goal is both to publicize the theme study itself, and also interrogate the way the theme study was constructed (highlighting, for instance, the way that underrepresented groups and places were foregrounded), and the uses that academics, public historians, preservationists, and everyday Americans can make of the study.

 Chair Nicholas Syrett (co-chair of the Committee on LGBT History and a peer reviewer for the study) will begin by introducing the theme study and giving context about theme studies more generally and their purposes. Jeffrey Auer, of the Nevada LGBT Archives and the University of Nevada, Reno, will focus on the theme study’s approach to cities, which was inclusive of smaller cities and those urban spaces that are not considered to be traditionally “queer cities.” Jeffrey Harris, an independent historian and preservation consultant, will comment on the intersectional aspects of the study, particularly as they relate to LGBTQ and African American identities. His remarks will also focus on the ways that preservationists and queer academics alike can learn from one another about the overlapping and sometimes hidden queer and/or black connections of historic sites and events. Katie Batza of the University of Kansas will explore the uses of the theme study in both history and gender studies classrooms. Incorporating teaching suggestions, Batza also encourages us to see the theme study as a way to approach the politics of historical memory itself. Finally, Susan Ferentinos, a specialist in LGBTQ public history, will emphasize the significance and usefulness of the theme study in her ongoing work in preserving LGBTQ historic sites in the Northeastern United States and in Indiana, where Ferentinos is working to designate the home of Alfred Kinsey on the National Register of historic places.

We will then give audience members—public historians, traditional academics, and those with a foot in both worlds—a chance to ask questions about the theme study and explore its usefulness for their own ongoing work in queer history.

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