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Centre for Culture and The Arts

Sexualities, history and heritage: bringing LGBTQ heritage into the mainstream

Research by Professor Alison Oram into the representation of LGBTQ histories at historic sites. Leader of the “Pride of Place: England’s LGBTQ Heritage” consultancy project for government agency Historic England, achieving wide public awareness.

Sexualities, history and heritage: bringing LGBTQ heritage into the mainstream

The Challenge

Before 2015 very few heritage sites in Britain referenced their LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer) histories in their interpretation. Professor Oram’s research (2011, 2012) drew attention to this deficit. Her academic publications underpin the increased willingness of national heritage organisations to include such histories and to incorporate new terms such as ‘queer history’ into their visitor resources. Oram’s leadership of the Historic England consultancy project “Pride of Place: England’s LGBTQ Heritage” (2015-16) set the pace in shifting the policy and practice of national bodies and actively engaged thousands of people in identifying and preserving LGBTQ heritage.

The Approach

Oram’s research demonstrated the diverse ways in which ideas about same-sex love are presented in sites including Sissinghurst (Kent), Shibden Hall (West Yorkshire) and Plas Newydd (the home of the "Ladies of Llangollen" in Wales). Oram recommends that curators and custodians of historic houses challenge the privileged position of heterosexuality in our society by revealing the evidence of queer lives in their properties.

The government agency responsible for the historic environment, Historic England (English Heritage until 2015 when that body was separated from its property management arm) has increasingly sought to promote “under-represented heritage” in its work since the 2000s. Oram disseminated her research to its regional staff groups and served as a panel member on its wide-ranging 2012 consultancy on Under-Represented Heritage.

In 2015 Oram won a highly competitive bidding process for Stages 1 and 2 of Historic England’s LGBT Heritage project, subsequently named “Pride of Place: England’s LGBTQ Heritage”. She led a team of between 4 and 10 people between 2015 and 2016 whose purpose was to advise Historic England on new and amended listings of historic sites to reflect their LGBTQ histories, to engage the public in a crowd-sourced map to reveal new queer sites, to write a 35-page online exhibition, new guidance for designation and archive practice, and teachers’ resources. This was the largest social history project on under-represented heritage commissioned by Historic England to that date.

The Impact

Pride of Place’s impact is determined by its significance in securing the inclusion of LGBTQ heritage in national policy and practice. Its impact is also seen in its national reach through extensive public engagement activities, including an innovative crowd sourced map and an online exhibition, which help to ensure that LGBTQ heritage will continue to play an important role in policy in future generations.

  1. Embracing diversity in National Heritage policy

    Before 2015, LGBTQ history was featured at only a handful of historic sites and not recognised at all by national heritage bodies. New official policy supporting and explaining the significance of LGBTQ heritage was written by the Pride of Place team and adopted by Historic England in 2015.

  2. Preserving sites of LGBTQ heritage

    Pride of Place achieved 22 new and amended listings of historic sites on the National Heritage List for England (NHLE), the searchable online database that Historic England maintains, to better reflect their significance to LGBTQ history.

  3. Reach

    Pride of Place mobilised both the general public and specialist historians and archivists to record their knowledge of LGBTQ heritage on a public crowd-sourced map created by the project team. Its rationale was to make use of people’s everyday heritage alongside traditional historical sources in order to engage the general public to co-produce historical content.

Pride of Place

Find out more about England's LGBTQ Heritage on Historic England Pride of Place webpages.

Find out more

  • Alison Oram, “Her Husband was a Woman!” Women’s Gender-Crossing and Modern British Popular Culture. London: Routledge, 2007
  • Alison Oram, ‘Going on an outing: the historic house and queer public history’, Rethinking History, vol 15, no 2, 2011, pp. 189-207
  • Alison Oram, Sexuality in Heterotopia: Time, Space and Love between Women in the Historic House’, Women’s History Review, vol 21, no 4, September 2012, pp. 533-551
  • Alison Oram, ‘“Woman as Husband”: Gender, Sexuality and Humour in the News of the World 1912-1950s’ in Laurel Brake, Chandrika Kaul, Mark W. Turner (eds.), ‘Journalism for the Rich, Journalism for the Poor’: The News of the World and the British Press, 1843-2011. London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2016
  • Alison Oram, ‘Pride of Place: Valuing, Mapping and Curating Queer Heritage,’ in Richard Sandell, Rachael Lennon and Matt Smith (eds), Prejudice and Pride: LGBTQ heritage and its contemporary implications. Leicester: Research Centre for Museums and Galleries, 2018
  • Alison Oram, ‘A Queer Study,’ in Matt Cook and Andrew Gorman-Murray (eds), Queering the Interior. London: Bloomsbury, 2017

Alison Oram

Professor Emerita of Social and Cultural History, School of Cultural Studies and Humanities
  • Culture and applied social sciences
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