Dr. Tey M. Nunn and the Smithsonian's Women's History Initiative

By: Claire Randall, CPH Graduate Assistant

cms_ss-yard-sign.jpgOn the eve of Women’s History Month, the UH Center for Public History’sproject, “Sharing Stories from 1977,” was proud to host an evening with Dr. Tey Marianna Nunn. The Director of the Smithsonian’s American Women’s History Initiative, Nunn spoke on the importance of making women in history more visible and her hopes to pave the way through the national American Women’s History Museum.

"Sharing Stories from 1977" is an award-winning digital humanities project committed to documenting and preserving the participant experiences and legacy of the National Women’s Conference held in Houston, November 18-21, 1977. It makes important interventions in the historiography of women and politics by showing the range of political engagement from grassroots organizing to the halls of Congress. Americans in the 1970s, this project reveals, were much more civic and politically minded and much more committed to the expansion of American democracy than the literature currently suggests.


Nunn began the evening by answering her question, “why is a Latina art historian the director of the American Women’s History Initiative?” Nunn recalls her childhood feeling frustrated by discrimination against women by not being allowed to wear pants to school or even find Nancy Drew books at the library. She instead found inspiration from strong women such as Lieutenant Nyota Uhura on Star Trek and Diahann Carroll in her role as Julia, as they were among the only women of color on tv at the time. Along with strong female heroes like Wonder Woman, Nunn felt that she was strong enough to make a difference and find ways to write women into history as they had so often been left out or ignored.

She began this quest with her dissertation as it followed the story of Hispanic artists and art subjects who did not have their names included in their art works because they were laborers or craftsmen. She found this was especially true for female artists or art subjects who were rarely named, if ever. Nunn discovered a love of following clues to find the names of the unnamed women associated with these works to give the women the credit they were due.

The beginning of Nunn’s interest in museums came from her time in retail management when Nunn realized she had an interest in objects and how arranging objects can tell a story. With her desire for objects, finding their origin and telling their story, Nunn’s positions with museums allowed her to continue this desire while she served as the Director and Chief Curator of the Art Museum at the National Hispanic Cultural Center (NHCC) in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Dr. Nunn also spent nine plus years as the Curator of Contemporary Hispano and Latino collections at the Museum of International Folk Art in Santa Fe. It was these experiences that led Nunn to the Smithsonian as they begin their initiative for the new American Women’s History Museum and the National Museum of the American Latino.

Nunn also spoke to the efforts being made by women around the nation to put themselves back into history such as panels about black motherhood, Wikipedia edit-a-thons by an all-women’s group, preserving women’s fashion, and putting women on American currency. All of these are what Nunn considers important forms of public history whether through preservation, archiving, or exhibiting. Nunn expressed her desires to have more women celebrated in history and that the American Women’s History Museum can be a place for that celebration.

You can learn more about the Sharing Stories from 1977 project here, including ways to support the project and engage on social media!

You can also find out more about Dr. Tey M. Nunn and her work at the Smithsonian, here.