A House of Many Stories

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  • Title: A House of Many Stories: The Gibson House Museum and Narratives of Inclusion and Exclusion
  • Author(s): Todd Gernes
  • Publisher: Common Ground Research Networks
  • Collection: Common Ground Research Networks
  • Series: Common Ground Open
  • Journal Title: The International Journal of the Inclusive Museum
  • Keywords: House Museums, Gibson House Museum, Literary Museums, Gay and Lesbian History, LGBTQ History, Narrativity, Strategies of Engagement
  • Volume: 17
  • Issue: 2
  • Date: March 21, 2024
  • ISSN: 1835-2014 (Print)
  • ISSN: 1835-2022 (Online)
  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.18848/1835-2014/CGP/v17i02/73-102
  • Citation: Gernes, Todd. 2024. "A House of Many Stories: The Gibson House Museum and Narratives of Inclusion and Exclusion." The International Journal of the Inclusive Museum 17 (2): 73-102. doi:10.18848/1835-2014/CGP/v17i02/73-102.
  • Extent: 30 pages

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The Gibson House Museum, located in Boston’s Back Bay neighborhood, has a significant track record of acknowledging and incorporating LGBTQ history into its programs, presentations, and tours. Yet this history is complex. The museum, a kind of Victorian time capsule, was founded by Boston poet Charles Hammond Gibson Jr. (1874–1954) in the mid-twentieth century as a literary monument and shrine to himself; however, family members and the early board of directors were never really comfortable with Gibson’s eccentricity and sexual identity and in the early years sought to “eradicate his problematic presence” from the museum’s collections, tours, and presentations. Reckoning with the museum’s engagement and disengagement with issues of race and class is still an open question. By the end of the twentieth century, the museum began to explore and incorporate LGBTQ history, as well as race, class, and gender, into its interpretive framework. Yet the narratives the museum has crafted to engage audiences and express its own history and identity reveal ongoing tensions within the institution as a social, cultural, and ideological space. These interlaced narratives, backchannel negotiations, pregnant silences, and even shadow stories were often implied or insinuated rather than stated directly. In particular, reckoning with the museum’s engagement and/or disengagement with issues of race, class, gender, and sexuality is still somewhat tentative and very much an open question. Blending critical museology and interdisciplinary history and contextualizing the museum and its founder, this essay explores the dialectics of inclusion and exclusion that inform and yet fragment the museum’s self-fashioning and ongoing reimagining.