PUBLIC HISTORY = PUBLIC SCHOLARSHIP
Foundational to public history, academic practice, and a shifting discipline in transition is to make our labor visible and open our practice and process into the public arena. To support this fundamental tenet, I have integrated a conference proposal to this internship. I selected the National Council of Public History’s 2022 meeting in Montreal because of the emphasis on the restorative work of public historians as well a the fitting theme, ‘Crossroads.’
Having identified the conference in June, earlier during this internship, I shifted focus to content and collaborators. The LGBTQ History Museum of Central Florida participated in a structured conversation during the 2021 meeting, and I realized the panel format would better suit a presentation of the work of this research and proud diction of this video series. I also recognized the experience and influence of the process during this project and did not want to concentrate only on sharing the product, but to discuss the dynamic and generative work of critical making.
DRAFTING THE PROPOSAL
Critical making and the process of thinking through applied research and relevance to the field is an exciting intersection that points to the humanity embedded in the research process, especially of historically excluded communities, such as the LGBTQ population. The proposal called for a brief, public-facing description and a more detailed description of the structure and presentation elements. Writing each of these, I worked through the language and angles of what significant skills and experience I developed as well as what could be a strong contribution to the field and other practitioners.
In service and further advocacy of public practice, I am including the text from the proposal below.
Public-facing description: Collaborating as members of the Board of Directors serving the LGBTQ History Museum of Central Florida, our work expands the field of public history with digital archives, pop-up exhibits, and electronic media. Presenting our specific projects — oral histories, social media platforms, video pathways into the collection, scholarship and administration — as case studies of the practice, problems, and process of working with excluded communities, marginalized voices, and suppressed materials. This positions public history work as restorative, complicated, and transformational among scholars and community partners documenting collaborative narratives.
Detailed description: The structure will be to first briefly introduce the Museum by contextualizing its purpose and function in relationship to the intersectional landscapes it occupies. The digital, web-based platform becomes a site of research and inquiry with relevant affordances and constraints of access. The materials of digital archives can appear transparent or even invisible when the physical realities are servers, heat, interfaces, responsive devices as well as multiple languages and networks. Also, we must actively resist the positivist, progressive narratives that center the gay, White, male experience.
Nikki Fragala Barnes will present her process of researching within the Museum’s archives and scripting and filming a series of video shorts that function as pathways into the collection, facilitating engagement via social media. This video series also serves as an invitation for scholars and community members to explore the collections, critically questioning information structure and source materials, as well as wrestling with the tensions of presence and absence of documenting an historically excluded community.
Martha Brenckle, past Board president, will present the Museum’s commitment to further differing perspectives in both interpretation and collecting artifacts, expanding the curated collection and its installations in the community. At its inception, the LGBTQ+ Museum’s individual donations of artifacts focused almost exclusively on cis-gendered White gay men, except for the collections of drag queen memorabilia and photos. Attempts to expand our harvesting processes have not been as successful as projected. Because the Museum has found itself at a crossroads, this presentation recognizes the problems of misreading intersectionality, diversity and inclusion and the attempts to become more radically inclusive in policies, archival practices, board representation, and artifacts.
David Matteson, current Board president, will present on two recent exhibitions organized by the Museum to address historic queer spaces and community building efforts that existed outside of gay bar culture. Considering inclusivity in a broad sense, these exhibitions work to address the often exclusive focus upon bars and nightclubs within LGBTQ public history projects. What does a more expansive understanding of the queer community look like in practice? Both exhibitions were organized through university partnerships, and so this presentation will also consider the challenges and rewards of working with students as emerging historians.
Alexis Rodriguez will present on the gradual development of the Museum’s social media platforms and oral histories collection. Initially used to gather information relating to drag queen memorabilia and photos, the use of social media as a tool for harvesting history prompted the development of the Museum’s social media accounts, in order to present Central Florida’s LGBTQ history in a way which engages various audiences in an ongoing conversation within the LGBTQ community. This in turn relates to the issues of memory, generational differences, and the problematic unintentional exclusion of marginalized communities from the collection as well as counter processes to respond to these crossroads.
Session goals: This session welcomes emerging and established public historians and digital data researchers to question the complicated sites of working with suppressed materials and oppressed communities. This work will interest scholars and museum practitioners who want to extend their work into more collaborative, participatory spaces to work to restore and reclaim excluded narratives within the dominant records. The emphasis on process and a willingness to share problematic aspects will encourage an honest and generative discussion centering human experiences in an effort to repair and reconcile.
I wrote the text above except for each presenter’s description. Navigating areas of concentration to draft a cohesive presentation was its own challenges and exercise in applied practice. Additionally, the instability of pandemic life and the oversaturated schedules required deft navigation to coordinate and complete the text. This is the nature of this work, and it is often unaccounted for or invisible in the more product-focused landscape. I am thankful for the commitments of my collaborators and mentors to engage with me and to value the conference aspects. Moving forward, I suggested to the Museum’s Board that a standing committee would be a working solution to selecting conferences and preparing proposals throughout the year.
THOUGHTS ON SUBMISSION PROCESS
One of the fields on the proposal was to disclose if members of this current proposal had previously presented, in an effort to prioritize new voices. This is not as simple and clear as it appears. To me, this is another component of working through the process and more fully integrating the values of DEAI as more equitable practices are expanded and emphasized. Nevertheless, I would advocate for an entry to include more context on the presenters place in their careers, the significance of this current work, etc., instead of singling out previous involvement, especially framed as a disadvantage.
Leading into this expressed commitment to inclusion, a final field asked the proposer to discuss their identities as well as their presenters, and any other relevant information that would provide evidence of belonging to an underrepresented or historically excluded community. Again, while a clear step indicating the efforts the organizers are incorporating, this is quite harmful in its disclosure of personal experiences of exclusion and marginalization. I do hope to become more involved with NCPH, and perhaps serve with their governance staff to align these values with practices that foster wide open doors and tables to include work and perspectives and participation from many communities.