This week marks Museum Week, and Twitter has been flooded with museums, their publics and academics tweeting about museums with the tag #MuseumWeek. Like #MuseumSelfie a few months ago, which encouraged users to share images of themselves in museums (unless of course in a no photography exhibition), Museum Week has done a great deal to break the barrier between museums as educators and as interactive places of fun. Museums are increasingly reaching out to their audiences to both promote their content and to make the work of museums a two-way relationship with the public – and Twitter is proving an excellent platform to do this.
Museums are increasingly and positively representing the history of same-sex love and sexuality in both permanent and temporary exhibitions, but unfortunately the latter are often only in place for LGBT History Month. To celebrate Museum Week, I wanted to show how museums can and do promote the history of same-sex love in their permanent collections the whole year round, so have collected a few of the great resources created by museums here. They are unfortunately based in the south of England, and not representative of the museum sector as a whole, but are great examples of permanent resources for those looking for the history of same-sex love in museums. Please do post about any other great LGBT museum resources, exhibitions or objects in the comments.
Museum of London
The Museum of London (MoL) hosted the first major exhibition on the history of same-sex love in 1999, before the repeal of Section 28. The wonderfully named ‘Pride and Prejudice’ placed the history of same-sex love in the wider history of London, using both MoL objects and those on loan from archives and museums across the UK. The history of same-sex love is also represented in MoL’s permanent display ‘World City 1950s to Today’. A display relating to gay liberation is placed alongside civil rights movements from the latter part of the twentieth century, and includes a digital series of interviews with individuals who played signifiant parts in such civil rights movements. The image below shows part of this display.
I particularly like this display and the approach of MoL because it is placed within and alongside other histories, showing that LGBT histories should not always stand alone in their own displays, but in context with other histories. In this way, the history of same-sex love is shown as an integral part of the history of London more generally.
MoL also have some excellent online resources relating to LGBT histories. This essay post on ‘Sexuality’ is far from up to date, but explains the LGBT content in the context of MoL’s collection specifically. There is also a subject page for The LGBT Community in London, which gives further context to the history of same-sex love and lists details of items relating to LGBT history in MoL’s collection.
I’ve blogged about the public history of same-sex love in Brighton before, but didn’t mention their museum collection and wonderful project ‘Object Stories’. I went to Brighton Museum for the first time last summer and one of the first things I noticed was a small rainbow sticker on one of the objects – which it turned out, was just one object in their LGBT trail, Object Stories. The project’s webpage notes that, “in traditional museum and gallery interpretation the more personal histories of objects and their makers are often hidden”, which Object Stories aimed to change. The project identified 10 particular objects relating to LGBT history, and highlighted these on several platforms. A paper trail map was produced, which allowed visitors to track the objects around the museum and find out more about them. Visitors can also follow the trail via a smart phone app, available for free. Finally, a series of videos were recorded and made available on youtube, allowing visitors access to further context and related discussion – and also preserving the trail for future use.
The BM is outstanding in the range and scope of objects that they hold, and also in their promotion of same-sex love. It is difficult to compare BM’s representation of same-sex love to other museums because of this, and also because of their funding and resources, but nevertheless it remains an excellent example of how museums can represent the history of same-sex love permanently.
In collaboration with Untold London, BM created a trail of their LGBT objects, which is available in both paper (ask at the BM information desk) and online here. The trail provides details of each object included, as well as context of the period they originate from. It is an invaluable resource for visitors of the BM and for those searching for LGBT history. Included in the trail is the Warren Cup (pictured below), a Roman silver cup that displays two scenes of male same-sex love. The origins of the Cup have been very recently debated, with Luca Giuliani, a leading German archaeologist, arguing that it dates to the early twentieth century rather than the Roman era. Either way, it remains a hugely significant object in the history of same-sex love.
The trail also includes objects relating to Sappho, Hadrian and Antinous, as well as lesser-known individuals in the history of same-sex love. Like Brighton’s Object Stories, the BM trail allows visitors to explore the history of same-sex love in a larger context, as the objects are part of much larger collections.
As well as the online version of the trail, the BM website also includes further details of objects relating to the history of same-sex love. The subject page for Same-Sex Desire and Gender Identity includes links to short essays on particular objects, as well as a link to an audio tour presented by Richard Parkinson, former curator and author of BM’s ‘A Little Gay History’ (from which the featured image on this page is taken).
These three examples of museums and their representations of same-sex love not only highlight the range of histories available to the public, but also show the importance of interactivity and the use of online resources for museums today. Online trails, essays and discussions allow users to explore objects, subjects and history in an in-depth and interactive way. As #MuseumWeek continues, the importance of such interactivity will surely become yet more evident.