Queer Frontier: LGBTQ Research and Experiences in Archaeology

Sponsored by Oxbow Books

Queer Frontier: LGBTQ Research and Experiences in Archaeology

Sponsored by Oxbow Books

Caitlin Kitchener (University of York, caitlin.kitchener@york.ac.uk)

It has been eighteen years since Thomas Dowson (2000) argued that the past is presented and written in a heterosexual manner and that LGBTQ archaeologists often feel under pressure to separate their sexuality and/or gender from their work. Where are we now? How do LGBTQ archaeologists experience, navigate, and challenge the discipline? Is the past still dominated by heterosexual readings and narratives? If so, what can we do about it?

This session seeks to explore the experiences and research of LGBTQ archaeologists, as well as archaeologists who engage with queer theory. It invites work from any time period or methodology because the emphasis is on creating a space that celebrates and constructs queer readings plus permits the sharing of personal experiences. Questions and themes to consider include how sexuality and/or gender influence or are integral to the research being conducted, the theoretical and methodological ramifications of queering the past, and how to present queer archaeology and history within heritage settings, both traditional museum spaces and alternatives. Papers are welcome to focus on personal experiences and reflections too. As a queer archaeologist myself, these are challenges, concepts, and criticisms I have considered and lived, with this session being an opportunity to connect these with others and to wonder whether there is such a thing as the queer frontier and what this means for archaeology.

Keywords: gender; LGBTQ; queer theory; sexuality


Queering Archaeology’s Digital Frontiers: Mediating Creativity and Risk in Public Scholarship

Katherine Cook (University of Montreal, katherine.cook@umontreal.ca)

The expansion of digital research, web-based public scholarship and adoption of creative media have increasingly radicalized participation, engagement and power in traditional disciplinary structures. Revelling in the ways that coding, maker and hacker cultures underscore the practices of creating, tinkering, and breaking to disrupt and remove barriers, digital public practice in archaeology presents new opportunities, but also new risks. This paper will examine the intersections of dissent, public-ness, and risk-taking in archaeological knowledge production and the reception of diverse identities, inclusion and multi-vocality online. The ways in which queer voices are using the flexibility, access and openness of digital platforms to disrupt the past and the present has the potential to establish a critical future agenda of activism, advocacy, and impact in archaeological theory, but only if we find the means of protecting and supporting diverse archaeologists online.


Creating an Archaeogaming Zine: A Queer Public Archaeology?

Florence Smith Nicholls (Museum of London Archaeology) and Sara Stewart (Freelance illustrator)

Archaeogaming can be very broadly defined as the archaeological study of video games as artifacts, immaterial spaces and their programming. As an emerging, interdisciplinary field, some of the core challenges of archaeogaming have been self-definition and engagement with diverse audiences.  However, it is precisely this uneasy position within the academy which renders it particularly well suited to queering the field of archaeology.

As an archaeologist and illustrator, we have joined together to produce an archaeogaming zine, a short, non-profit and self-published magazine which will explore the definitions and concerns of archaeogaming. The zine form, not traditionally considered academic, allows for an informal exploration of archaeogaming with a combination of written and visual pieces. It is hoped that this collaboration will have potential for queering archaeogaming and the practice of public archaeology through disseminating the zine in contexts not typically associated with either video games or heritage.


A Queer Exploration of Ecological Care

Geneviève Godin (University of Tromsø, genevieve.godin@uit.no) 

I here wish to provide a queer reading of ecological care. As we accept that the boundaries between humans and nonhumans are more akin to complex webs of interdependence, making us deeply interconnected, we allow for the expansion of a non-anthropocentric way of thinking that is uniquely equipped to address the concerns that grow out of our archaeological work with people, things, and increasingly precarious ecologies. Queerness asks of us that we care about the world beyond ourselves, and act in its best interest. The role of valuing-beyond-the-self in creating new futures should not be underestimated. I argue that it is through queer values, especially those surrounding Halberstam’s seminal concept of ‘queer failures,’ that we may begin to envision a different kind of futurity—one that radically fails to continue on our current trajectory, and actively embraces more caring and ecologically-adept ways of life.


In Defense of Antinuos, or On a Paradox of Studying Homosexuality in Antiquity

Tatiana Ivleva (Newcastle University, Tatiana.Ivleva@newcastle.ac.uk)

In this presentation I will focus on a personal experience when dealing with and studying the subject of same-sex relations in the Roman world and Roman army in particular. By trying to present a more balanced view on the nature of the same sex relations, it became clear that academics and public have conflicting preferences, with the former more open to heterosexual normativity readings of the evidence, whilst the latter to a more positive ‘love story’ view. As a case study, the relationship between the Roman Emperor Hadrian and his male lover Antinuos will be discussed. This relationship have been often cited to represent the true gay love story of the ancient world, but the image of Antinuos as romantic companion of Hadrian was created in mid-19th century and the true nature of the relationship is simply not known to us.


A Cabinet of Curious Creatures – Dragging the Museum into the 21st Century

Michelle Scott (University of Manchester/Manchester Museum) and Michael Atkins (University of Manchester)

In an age where museums are empowered to advocate for social change and inclusion, many LGBTQ+ people continue to feel excluded by objects and text which privilege worldviews that are not representative of today’s social and cultural diversity. Grounded in the idea that gender and identity are social signifiers, normalised through received and habitual performance, this paper positions museum display as a performative space projecting an (un)conscious perpetuation of fixed narratives, which legitimise a ‘natural’ gender binary.

In a theoretical exposition of interventions at Manchester Museum, using drag performance as artistic response and (re)presenting the museum’s objects through a queer lens, this paper discusses drag as a vehicle to trouble the fixity in the representation of (past) people, and its potential as a critical counterpoint to deconstruct the privilege that has been afforded to one story over another.


The Things we Hold Queer(ed): Questioning the Ownership of Viking Loot

Tonicha Upham (University of Iceland, tmu1@hi.is)

A significant proportion of Viking loot ultimately arrived in the hands of women. Typically, considerations of female usage of loot hinge on heteronormative narratives of a raider bringing home loot as a gift for his wife. In whatever form these objects took, they would serve as an exotic trinket as well as a masculine war prize.

I will question this narrative, exploring alternative modes of loot acquisition, and highlighting how object symbolism might be subverted under female ownership. Focusing on the Melhus Reliquary as an example of an Insular object used by a woman in a possible ritual setting, I will separate the female usage of loot from the traditionally masculine narratives to which it is usually attached, considering how women’s active ownership of loot might have queered the ‘masculine’ narratives and receptions of raiding.


“Few and the Most Depraved of their Sex”: Queering Regency Female Reformers

Caitlin Kitchener (University of York, caitlin.kitchener@york.ac.uk)

1819 saw the formation of the first working class female reform society in Blackburn to aid the cause of suffrage and parliamentary reform. The women were insulted, mocked, and satirised in the press and print due to the perceived instability of their gender. Their roles in the family were criticised in pamphlets and their bodies attacked through caricature.  I utilise the idea of ‘female masculinity’ to interpret how the female reformers constructed their own identities but also how they were viewed from a conservative or Loyalist perspective. This paper will explore how through engaging with the story and experiences of these pioneering Lancastrians, my own queerness, sexuality, and gender intersected with the analysis. Simply put, does the analysis conceive of female reformers as deviant, othered, or masculine because of my own experiences? And then, does this matter?