Amy K. Levin Author of Evaluating Organization Development

Amy K. Levin

Independent Scholar
Professor Emerita, Northern Illinois University

I am passionate about museums and inclusion, particularly in terms of gender and migration status. Writing on these topics is a form of social justice activism for me, and I enjoy traveling the world to find best practices in large and small institutions. Currently, I am studying exhibitions whose contents may be traumatizing for visitors.


    BA, English (Comparative, with French), Harvard, 1978
    MA, English, University of Colorado, 1982
    PhD, English, City University of New York, 1989

Areas of Research / Professional Expertise

    Museum Studies
    Gender and sexuality studies
    Literature by women
    Literature and Medicine

Personal Interests

    Travel; cooking; reading; yoga; swimming; soap-making


Featured Title
 Featured Title - Museums, Sexuality and Gender Activism - 1st Edition book cover



Collecting Epidemics: More questions

By: Amy K. Levin
Subjects: Art & Visual Culture, Gender & Intersectionality Studies, Health and Social Care, History, Museum and Heritage Studies , Other

In their chapter on collecting materials related to HIV-AIDS in Dutch museums, Manon Parry and Hugo Schalkwijk, who designed this activity, describe several challenges in both collecting and exhibiting the history of HIV and AIDS.

-Browse the collections of major institutions or look up specific exhibitions, searching for HIV and AIDS-related objects. See, for example, the catalogues for the Wellcome Collection ( or the Smithsonian National Museum of American History (, or search for images and articles about the traveling exhibition “Siyazama: Traditional Arts, Education, and AIDS in South Africa.”  

-Which perspectives are best represented in these collections? What else could, or should be included? Why?

-Give some other examples of collecting and exhibiting the history of HIV and AIDS, based on a collection or archive in your country or region.

-Browse newspaper reports and Twitter threads about COVID-19, search for online exhibitions on other pandemics, or use other creative ways to find potential objects to document this pandemic. What kinds of things would you want to collect? How would you find these artifacts? Which stories from this unfolding history are most at risk of being lost or underrepresented in museums, in your opinion? Why?

-Choose one object related to AIDS, and one related to COVID-19, and write an 1500-word analysis of each one, explaining what they are, where from, what they represent, what stories you would tell by exhibiting them. What else would you show alongside each and why?

Find out more by reading their chapter in Museums, Sexuality, and Gender Activism (link below).


By: Amy K. Levin
Subjects: Art & Visual Culture, History, Museum and Heritage Studies , Other

In a recent email, Brenda Malone of the National Museum of Ireland commented: "I've been wondering about the many things that makes coronavirus collecting both similar and so different to collecting the Irish abortion referendum. There are plenty of official government signs to collect, which I'm sure I'll get a hold of, though I have to find that appropriate window between them not being needed anymore and being thrown out, which can't be arranged in advance. Also a lot of concepts to represent - the trauma this is causing to some, how terrified every shop assistant I've spoken to is.

And the memes created to deal with it all! How do we collect a complex event that produces material that includes both officialdom and personal experience, both trauma and humour?"

Think about practical and ethical considerations around collecting items that represent such a trauma. Go back to the first half of this activity and reconsider one of the objects you selected. Write a brief paragraph in support of collecting it now and then a second brief paragraph in which you oppose collecting the item. In a third paragraph, discuss how you might ethically collect and display something to represent trauma experienced by those who work in retail, healthcare, or other emergency services.


By: Amy K. Levin
Subjects: Art & Visual Culture, Gender & Intersectionality Studies, History, Museum and Heritage Studies , Other

In her chapter of Museums, Sexuality, and Gender Activism, Branda Malone of the National Museum of Ireland describes a proactive effort on the museum’s part to collect materials related to the “Repeal the 8th” campaign to legalize abortion even as the campaign was taking place (see We invite readers to consider a pressing current event – for us, it’s the coronavirus pandemic – and to make a small collection of digital or physical materials (say, five items). Consider the obvious, such as sanitizer bottles or empty toilet paper rolls, but also more individual items, for instance, a child’s home schooling lesson, a sign explaining a shop’s closing, or an unemployment notice. For each item, write a paragraph on what it is, who it belonged to, and how it was used if it’s not immediately apparent. Write another paragraph explaining why you believe it’s an important object to keep.

J. Adair's Online Teaching Activity connected to Museums, Sexuality, and Gender Activism pt. II

By: Amy K. Levin
Subjects: Museum and Heritage Studies , Other

This activity is from Joshua Adair, co-editor of Museums, Sexuality, and Gender Activism.

Mar 26, 2020 |

Part two:

To start, encourage students to visit the Battle of Franklin Trust’s podcast page ( to listen to some of the offerings with a critical ear. In what ways are listeners’ perspectives on the issues addressed forced? Does the podcast they selected represent facts, opinions, and/or both? Are there any noteworthy silences? How would your student revise this narrative considering the other information they’ve gathered thus far? Do men or women figure more prominently? Are their roles ever presented in sexist ways?

Then, ask students to spend some time exploring the more commercial aspects of Carnton, requiring them to pay special attention to the depiction/narration of weddings: What messages do the wedding photos convey? How are women featured? What aspects of femininity stand out? How do those narratives intersect with the ones offered about slavery and the Civil War? Ask students then to compile two lists of adjectives; one should be those pulled from the website, the other should describe their reactions. Spend some time discussing what these lists reveal.

To encourage their research further, ask them to search “Carnton Weddings” on Google, Instagram, and Facebook and to screenshot at least one surprising result. They should upload these screenshots with an explanation/discussion to your class platform (Blackboard, Canvas, etc.) I always ask students to connect these findings directly to the content we’ve covered already. What areas of incongruence can they interrogate when examining contemporary wedding culture on former sites of slavery and battle? In what ways is that history commodified? Whitewashed? Are stereotypical gender constructions at work here? How are visitors encouraged to insert themselves into these narratives?

Finally, ask students to watch this video: and to explore Alexander’s website. Ask students to consider the potential impacts of a local history museum being portrayed in fiction romance novels. How might commercial interests serve then to interrupt some narratives? Does genre connect to gender here? How might visitors and readers begin to misinterpret history as a result of this kind of work? How do we make sense of narratives that present history as both fact and fiction? Have they become interchangeable for some audiences?

Follow-up writing assignment: ask students to conduct further online research and offer a close reading of a specific visual or textual resource connected to another plantation museum in the U.S. Are there similarities between different sites? For instance, how often do “good slaveowner” narratives appear? Do women play significant roles? How often do sites focus upon architectural and domestic grandeur rather than the grotesque realities of slavery?

Inclusive Labeling Activity from the V&A

By: Amy K. Levin
Subjects: Art & Visual Culture, Gender & Intersectionality Studies, Museum and Heritage Studies , Other

In their chapter on the queer working group at the Victoria & Albert Museum in the UK, Zorian Clayton and Dawn Hoskin describe an effort to make works by LGBT artists more visible by adding 29 searchable terms to the institution’s collection database. You can try this out by going to and entering keywords related to gender and sexuality. The full list of terms is available at Examples might include androgyny, cross-dressing, and lesbian. Now, go to the collections search page for a major museum in your country (your instructor may provide ideas) and try the experiment using the same words. What do you find? Were you surprised or not? Finally, find a local institution with a searchable collection and repeat the experiment. Write a short essay reporting the results of your searches. In the conclusion, you might consider the following questions: Why do you think certain institutions have more inclusive websites than others? Should all institutions include terms related to identity categories, such as race and gender? Do these terms make works more accessible and visible? Why or why not? What other ways can museums make themselves more inclusive?

Class plan: Engaging with plantation museums, gender, histories of slavery, and visual literacy

By: Amy K. Levin
Subjects: Art & Visual Culture, Gender & Intersectionality Studies, History, Literature, Museum and Heritage Studies , Other

Another exciting lesson plan based on Joshua Adair's chapter of Museums, Sexuality, and Gender Activism, which focuses on Carnton Plantation and romance novels that perpetuate racist ideas of the Old South. See


On line teaching activity related to Museums, Sexuality, and Gender Activism

By: Amy K. Levin
Subjects: Art & Visual Culture, Gender & Intersectionality Studies, Museum and Heritage Studies , Other

For those who are struggling to put Museum Studies classes on line, here's an activity based my introduction to Museums, Sexuality, and Gender Activism. This activity engages students in considering gender diversity in museums.

Visit the museum's fascinating virtual museum tour of highlights of the 2017 Queer British Art exhibit:…/ta…/queer-walk-through-british-art. After the tour, share your thoughts about how the different interpreters of images on the website define queerness and gender. Then consider what constitutes evidence for them. Why do we expect people to cite evidence of the existence of queer lives and relationships but not of cisgender lives and heterosexual relationships?

As a second step, direct students to the Amazon page for Clare Barlow's catalog for the exhibit, also titled Queer British Art. Look at the pages that are available free. How do the authors describe the artists' lives and work? Is their language assertive or tentative? Do the writers use the active or passive voice? Here, the last paragraph of the essay on William Blake Richmond and the first half of the essay on Blackness in Bloomsbury are particularly useful. Why would the authors make these linguistic choices? What do their choices reveal about attitudes toward homosexuality?

Finally, students can read my opinions in the Amazon preview to Museums, Sexuality, and Gender Activism, pages 10-12.

If you enjoy this activity, I encourage you to buy the book or ask your library to acquire it: