AHA Member Spotlight: Susan Ferentinos
Susan Ferentinos is a self-employed public history researcher, writer, and consultant. She lives in Port Townsend, Washington, and has been a member since 2016.
Alma maters: BA (philosophy and international development), College of William and Mary, 1991; MA (US history), Indiana University, 1998; MLS (special collections), Indiana University, 1998; PhD (history), Indiana University, 2005
Fields of interest: LGBTQ, women, gender and sexuality, United States, 20th century, public history, museums, national parks, historic preservation
Describe your career path. What led you to where you are today?
I began my career in libraries and archives, as well as a grassroots community project on lesbian history in Austin, Texas. In graduate school, after stints in my university’s library system and its oral history center, I got an assistantship with the Organization of American Historians (OAH), in their publications department.
After four years in that position, right around the time I passed my PhD exams, I moved into a permanent OAH position as the organization’s first public history director. In that capacity, I advocated for the interests of public historians within the OAH; represented the OAH to the public history field; and oversaw a collaborative relationship between the OAH and the National Park Service.
In that position, which I held for about 10 years, I gained a lot of experience in public history and built my professional network in a variety of museums and historical organizations. Most of my consulting involves the fields of LGBTQ history, women’s history, and the history of gender and sexuality. I also have a few university departments as clients, where I offer career diversity programming and individualized career advising for graduate students. In 2015, I published the book Interpreting LGBT History at Museums and Historic Sites, which won the National Council on Public History Book Award.
What do you like the most about where you live and work?
I enjoy the range of projects I get to work on and the sense that I am helping to make LGBTQ people more visible in the public’s understanding of the past.
What projects are you currently working on?
One is a historic resource study for Eleanor Roosevelt National Historic Site, placing ER and her female political network within the larger context of gender, sexuality, and marriage in the early 20th century. A full list of my projects can be found at https://susanferentinos.com/portfolio/.
Have your interests evolved since graduation? If so, how?
Academically, I specialized in the history of gender and sexuality, and professionally, I specialized in public history. For years, there was very little overlap between these two aspects of my career. It was an amazing moment when public history content began including gender and sexuality and these two areas of my career began to converge.
What’s the most fascinating thing you’ve ever found at the archives or while doing research?
I did my dissertation on changing ideas of adolescent sexuality in the early 20th century, and that involved reading a LOT of teenage diaries. Two of my favorites are held by the Schlesinger Library at Radcliffe, the Beth Twiggar Goff diary and the Helene Harmon Weis diary. Goff was quite sexually adventurous as a teenager, and Weis was besotted with an older woman. Together, they provided such a lovely portrait of the highs, lows, and sheer emotional intensity of young womanhood.
Is there an article, book, movie, blog etc. that you could recommend to fellow AHA members?
Kim Gallon’s book Pleasure in the News: African American Readership and Sexuality in the Black Press recently helped me in a nomination I was doing for the National Register of Historic Places. I was documenting a site in Baltimore that had hosted Pansy Balls in the 1920s and 1930s, and Gallon’s book was a great help in my effort to understand the coverage of these events in the African American press. At the top of my books to read pile are Living Queer History: Remembrance and Belonging in a Southern City, by Gregory Samantha Rosenthal, and The Queerness of Home: Gender, Sexuality and the Politics of Domesticity after World War II, by Stephen Vider. Finally, Wendy L. Rouse’s book Public Faces, Secret Lives: A Queer History of the Women’s Suffrage Movement came out in May 2022 from NYU Press. I have seen her give a few talks about it, and I think it is really going to add a lot to our understanding of female partnerships in that era.
What do you value most about the history discipline?
Most of my fellow public historians take the responsibility of sharing the past with the US public very seriously. We do this work to help people make sense of their own lives and to understand how we got to this moment in time. I value that passion and dedication.
Why is membership in the AHA important to you?
I see the AHA as the main voice of the historic profession, and I am proud to support the organization’s advocacy work.
AHA members are involved in all fields of history, with wide-ranging specializations, interests, and areas of employment. To recognize our talented and eclectic membership, Perspectives Daily features a regular AHA Member Spotlight series.
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