Theses (Historic Preservation)

Document Type

Thesis or dissertation

Date of this Version



Suggested Citation:

Giganti, John (2018). The Terrible Doubt of Appearances - The Walt Whitman House and Inclusive Interpretation (Masters Thesis). University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, PA.


The Historic Preservation community has prioritized inclusive interpretation of historic sites, but this shift has also presented new challenges. Meanwhile, mainstream historians have downplayed lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ) history by casting doubt on sexual identity as a historical phenomenon before the late nineteenth century. Starting with the premise that non-normative sexual practices also constitute LGBTQ heritage before the modern era, that it is a legitimate subset of cultural heritage, and that social stigmatism has suppressed its presence in the historical record, this thesis aims to challenge traditional interpretation. Preservation can open historical interpretation to LGBTQ heritage by embracing ambiguity and uncertainty while still relying on evidence and logic. The thesis uses the Walt Whitman House in Camden, NJ to argue for broadening historic interpretation and normalizing discussions of sexuality. Following a description of the site, the thesis presents an overview of sexuality as historical context. It then discusses feminist and post-modern theories of sexuality and space as well as the controversial arguments surrounding Whitman and his attitudes towards sex and sexuality. Attention is given to the urban context of Camden. It finally argues for the holistic significance of the issues discussed.


LGBTQ, sexuality, history, heritage, homosexuality



Date Posted: 30 April 2019