History · Nonfiction · Queer

A Queer Public History Reading List

I’ve spent the past two years studying public history, and making it as queer as I possibly can. (Evidence: the capstone project I just shared.) I’ve done as much extra reading as I could cram in, but only found a handful of sources related to queer public history and queer museum practices, so I’ve compiled a list of them as a guide for other students and museum workers. Some may also interest the general public, if you have a stake in LGBT+ history.

Professional Guidelines

The Welcoming Guidelines for Museums from the LGBTQ Alliance, a network within the American Alliance of Museums. This is comprehensive and free. If you’re currently a practicing museum professional, you need this right now.

The LGBTQ Heritage Theme Study from the National Park Service. This is a little more esoteric and detailed, but also a very valuable (and huge) document you can access for free. There’s a lot of history and historical context, but also being from the NPS, there’s a focus on historical sites.

Books for Public Historians

Interpreting LGBT History at Museums and Historic Sites by Susan Ferentinos. This is a slim book combining an overview of American queer history with some public-history case studies. It’s worth a read if you’re new to the subject and there’s some good advice, but it’s not as practical as the Welcoming Guidelines.

Understanding and Teaching U.S. Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender History edited by Leila J. Rupp and Susan K. Freeman. This was one of my best books of 2016! It’s another overview of American history, but because it’s designed for teachers, it’s super helpful. There’s some theory about how to incorporate queer history into typical US history classes, but also a chapter about each chunk of American history. That makes it really easy to look up what queer stuff might be relevant for an exhibit or other public history project — I’ve done it myself for the exhibit I’m doing at work and found directly-related information.

Sex Museums: The Politics and Performance of Display by Jennifer Tyburczy. I hesitated to include this one, because it’s not really directed toward practitioners. It’s a much more academic work on performance studies, focuses on art museums, and is very dry. However, given that there are so few sources on the topic at all, I decided to mention it. It’s related information and it did help me frame certain issues around displaying sexual material in a museum, even if that’s not the main focus.

Books for Researchers

Bodies of Evidence: The Practice of Queer Oral History edited by Nan Alamilla Boyd. If you’re doing a major oral history project, you’ll definitely want this. It’s a dense blend of case study and history though, with only occasional practitioner advice, so it’s less broadly useful.

Out of the Closet, Into the Archives: Researching Sexual Histories edited by Amy L. Stone and Jaime Cantrell. I was super impressed with this one, because it stays relevant. No minutiae or case studies without takeaways. It really unpacks the nature of queer archival research, and I recommend it for any historian.

Porn Archives edited by Tim Dean et al. This is another big book, so a mixed bag, but it’s a really important source for anyone doing sex-related research. There’s a lot of how-to and why and the history of issues in porn/sex-related archiving, as well as a gamut of approaches and case studies. This will give you the academic grounding you need, not only to defend yourself but to do solid historical work.


History@Work. This is the National Council on Public History blog, and it has Gender/Sexuality and LGBTQ History tags that have been reasonably active in the past few years.
The Incluseum. A fantastic blog about all kinds of inclusion in museums with essays, best practices, case studies, conference reports, and more.

Queering the Museum Project. This isn’t an actively-publishing blog, but a project archive with a lot of posts and resources available!

If you know of more resources, definitely leave them in the comments for all of us!

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