A discussion of LGBTQ+ stories and historical spaces

By Holly Marsden

The material remains of historic houses and the imagining of their past inhabitants enables the concurrent appreciation by their visitors of the historical specificity and otherness of the past, together with those echoes of the familiar which makes them feel real. Making connections with the ghosts of the past will remain an affective and popular approach to the history of sexuality. Lesbian and gay identities continue to be significant in the present day and give resonance to visitors seeking evidence of the dissident sexual past.[1]

– Alison Oram

As it is LGBTQ+ history month, it is important to reflect on how historical stories are being told.  As Alison Oram notes above, historic houses provide an important space for members of the public to walk the same paths as historical figures they feel connected to. Curating and interpreting these spaces in order to tell narratives of same-sex desire and gender non-conformity is a great responsibility, holding the power to provide a sense of belonging to a visitor who, for example, may otherwise feel ostracised, or to create a space in which someone feels entirely safe and supported.

Walking on the very floorboards tred by queens from hundreds of years ago can be an exciting, enriching, and powerful experience. In Kensington Palace in London, for example, you can stand in the very room where Queen Anne of Great Britain called quits on her decades-long relationship with Sarah Churchill, Duchess of Marlborough. In Russia you can walk through the decadent Rococo haven Catherine Palace in Tsarskoye Selo which housed the great summer parties thrown at Catherine the Great’s court. The intimate lives of queens are echoed in the spaces they occupied.

Catherine Palace, Tsarskoye Solo, Russia.

Achieving an entirely safe and supportive environment is challenging, especially if the space is one which is bound in memories of trauma. But, like Mark Jarzombek argues, telling previously untold or hidden stories begins to work against historical architecture that, to some, dogmatises a ‘cultural nationalism’ which uses ‘selective constructions of history and tradition’ through enhancing ‘traumas as a support structure for the tropes of patriotism.’[2] In a call-to-arms Jarzombeck asks for ‘curatorial activism,’ which both accepts responsibility and provides adequate information and historical relevance in the discussion of spaces and objects.[3]

This notion is especially significant when considering royal histories. Audiences may question which ‘public’ royal history is for, and who feels or is physically welcome, maybe preventing potential audiences from visiting historical spaces or specific exhibitions within them. Thus, an intersectional approach must be taken to make these spaces as accessible, safe and enjoyable as possible. In curating history that could be deemed queer, an aim may be to resonate with the individual, echoing Oram’s sentiment that connecting with figures in historical spaces is often entirely personal.

Team Queens aims to celebrate and promote stories of individuals who fall under the LGBTQ+ umbrella both in the past and today. Public history is a vehicle in which to do that, which can do so in EVERY month of the year. Through this blog post, we hope we have managed to inspire you to delve into the incredible narratives of people of all sexualities, genders, attractions, and practises echoed by historical sites. And, if they are not being told, to challenge why. Happy LGBTQ+ History Month to all of our queens out there!

[1] Alison Oram, “Going on an outing: the historic house and queer public history,” Rethinking History 15, no. 2 (2011): 204.

[2] Mark Jarzombek, “The Metaphysics of Permanence – Curating Critical Impossibilities,” Log 1, no. 21 (2011): 125.

[3] Ibid.

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