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Rocking the boat: Exhibition methods of storytelling the experience of gender & sexuality in museums

Thesis by Sarah Elizabeth Olivo (2015)

The goal of this qualitative exploratory research was to identify and describe emerging models for telling/sharing stories of female-identified and LGBTQ experience in museum exhibition. The research investigated interpretation methods of four different participants whose purpose was to tell historically marginalized experience. The projects were the GLBT History Museum, the aSHEville Museum, the exhibit Revealing Queer and the associated Digital Storytelling Project. Data was collected through open-ended interviews of professionals directly involved, transcriptions were analyzed for trends and patterns in their methods.

Some key results include; 1.) The importance of developing authentic and transparent relationships with the community being represented. 2.) A critical finding is that all started their projects because they felt queer voices were not being heard in the museum. 3.) Language plays a central part in how exhibitions are received. 4.) Be cautious not to marginalize the already marginalized, leave room to add to the archives through listening for silences and gaps in the narrative.

These participants are all examples of “rocking the boat” by taking on topics and stories that have typically not been seen, explored, or accepted inside the museum. The results of this work add to the growing body of research around museums as platforms for social change.

Keywords: exhibitions, storytelling, identity, feminist standpoint, theory, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, intersectionality, narrative, interpretation, language, education, authenticity, research, critical museology, exhibition


Olivo, S. E. (2015). Rocking the boat: Exhibition methods of storytelling the experience of gender and sexuality in museums. ProQuest Dissertations Publishing. (Order No. 1600449). Available from Dissertations & Theses @ University of Washington WCLP; ProQuest Dissertations & Theses Global. (1732168275). Retrieved from