Queer Frontier: LGBTQ Research and Experiences in Archaeology

Posted on May 6, 2020



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.

Caitlin Kitchener (University of York)

Creating an Archaeogaming Zine: A Queer Public Archaeology?


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.

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

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


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

Tonicha Upham (University of Iceland)

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


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?

Caitlin Kitchener (University of York)


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