The relationship between oppressed communities and traditional historians and historiography has long been a fraught one. In our modern age, where the civil rights and protections for LGBTQ+ people are under constant discussion and threat, religious ideology and political will make representations of the past for historians both clearer and more difficult.
If we were to speak regarding the official history of the country, only in the last few years has the history of LGBTQ+ people been brought to life at all for the modern American public—and then, as in much oppression-based literature, unevenly relegated to one part of the country, let alone the world.
This geographical basis for knowledge and teaching is not an unusual difficulty faced by the LGBTQ+ community nor confined only to us. In school, we teach children about the Civil Rights movement and the Civil War in entirely different and disparate ways, based on the level of education of their teacher and where he or she was born. In Montgomery County, the heartland of the Civil Rights movement, there was no monument to any Civil Rights or other black leaders in the city until 2013. There remain, however, over sixty confederate monuments, including, right across the street from the Rosa Parks library, a much grander Jefferson Davis theater towering over it.
This tension is played out across the field of history, especially outside the cleanness of the academy. If we argue as historians that history serves purposes to our society and the world, as was discussed in the History Manifesto (flawed as I found that piece), we also have to be thoughtful about what we show the public, since that by its nature reflects choices, and preferences some stories over others.
My project will restrict itself to mostly museum ventures, in an attempt to capture and meditate on that push and pull, between traditional understandings of history and the histories not written about and forgotten. Smithsonian museums, the Holocaust Memorial, and the literature around the new creation of the placard for Stonewall under President Obama are examples of public history I’ll use to discuss how historians have created easily-found—or not so easily found—rebuttals to the age-old trope of LGBTQ+ communities being without a past. I will focus with most clarity on the language used and how quickly this information is to find—is it buried in the back of a Smithsonian website? Is it shown anywhere at all? Is there any information, for example, about two-spirit people in the American Indian museum? If so, how easy is it to find? These and other attempts to pry apart the making of traditional history from the real blood and life of the people who lived it will be the bulk of my paper.
My guiding question and guiding light is simply this: what are we portraying as digital historians about the history of marginalized groups of people?