Marc Pachter - The Nation Needed to Say "Our History Telling Is Incomplete"




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Oct 12, 2015
by Heather Jaber
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Marc Pachter - The Nation Needed to Say "Our History Telling Is Incomplete"

Marc Pachter, director-at-large at the Smithsonian Institute and director emeritus at the National Portrait Gallery, discussed public readiness for using an LGBT lens on history.

While we often look back and accept our records of historical events as fact, we know that our understanding of history is indeed constructed. Marc Pachter, director-at-large at the Smithsonian Institute and director emeritus at the National Portrait Gallery, explained the growing readiness of some societies to start including LGBT themes within their historical narratives at the third annual Salzburg Global LGBT Forum.

Pachter spoke of his experience working both with exhibitions and art acquisitions practices in The United States, and how the acceptance of LGBT themes has been grown rapidly over the last years.  “True history began with thinking of race and gender in general,” said Pachter. “It seemed to me the road was still stopping short of LGBT questions, which is also part of the reveal of what a culture is.”

He also discussed his involvement in introducing new exhibition themes to the National Portrait Gallery in which homosexuality was explored as one theme depicted and explored within American art. National museums in his view are no front runners, but play an important role to signal a growing consensus within society to discuss and include LGBT lives. 

What is significant, said Pachter, is not just to view the past through an LGBT lens, but to recognize that while we may be discussing these issues now, they were always present. “The history was always there,” said Pachter. “…people that were not known as gay were living their lives. So the nation needed to suddenly say, ‘Our history telling is incomplete.’”

Having these discussions through art signaled a shift of the way how American society looks and explores a more inclusive notion of its past. “So it felt both revolutionary and, happily in the end, ordinary."

Drawing on the concept of story-telling, Pachter prompted Fellows to tell their own life stories by simply asking them: "What was the world alike into which you were born?" Sharing life stories within the Global LGBT Forum is a key value of helping participants to more fully understand its other lives and cultures and find connecting themes. 

Pachter is a member of the Global LGBT Form since 2013 and was also chair of Salzburg Global Seminar session The "Telling of Lives”: Biography as a Mirror on Society in 2006, where participants discussed the formulation and influence of the biography in society.

To hear more about using art to introduce more inclusive understandings of our past, check out the interview below.

The Salzburg Global program Strengthening Communities: LGBT Rights & Social Cohesion is part of the Salzburg Global LGBT Forum. The list of our partners for Session 551 can be found here. For more information, please visit:

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