Living history has become a business, a profession, an art form, an educational
tool and a hobby to some. Living history can be best described as a movement,
a technique of interpretation, a philosophy, and an educational tool. It
began almost a hundred years ago in Europe with historians, anthropologists,
and antiquarians who were looking for a means to bring the past to life.
The open-air museums of Europe provided a natural stage for living history
programs. These museums include the day to day furnishings, and implements
of daily life exhibited in the context of historic houses, barns, outbuildings,
and business buildings such as craft and trade shops, mills and factories,
and places of worship. The open-air environment that surrounds the buildings
often consists of period appropriate plants, animals, fences and road surfaces
that demonstrate their historical themes. The staff in these museum parks
used replicated tools, and equipment to do the farming, and daily chores
of a time not so long ago. The interpreters dressed in period costume would
role play, or speak in first, or third person presenting information about
the past as they comprehend it, at the time that it is presented.
I wish I could say that the first living history programs were because of
Secretary of the Interior Harold L. Ickes, at Pierce Mill
in Rock Creek Park, Washington, D.C., with the restored operating flour
mill in 1936. The meal and flour was also used in the White House,
and government cafeterias. However, at least, in the National Park Service,
during the mid-1930's, a replica of an early Indian camp was constructed
behind the museum in Yosemite National Park. This "living exhibit"
was of great interest to visitors. An old squaw occupied the camp daily,
and she demonstrated the weaving of baskets, preparation of foodstuffs,
and the singing of Indian songs. By the mid-1950's there were only a few
other living history programs in the National Parks. There was the mule-drawn
barge trips on a restored section of the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal
in Washington, D.C. On the Blue Ridge Parkway, the reconstructed
Mabry Mill ground grain and mountain people demonstrated crafts.
Living history in a grist or flour mill actually began in America on Thanksgiving
day of 1929 at the newly constructed Grist Mill at the Wayside
Inn. The first and now the oldest mill museum in the United States.
This is because of the visionary efforts of Henry Ford who very early on,
promoted hands-on leaning not by the students, but by the educators. If
the audience can see the craft, or the trade demonstrated, it would create
an experience of history using the five senses as well as intellect and
emotions which defined the interpretive technique from the beginning. In
1933 the Witter Agricultural Museum at the New York State Fair
had sent spinners and weavers to demonstrate the historical process in a
gallery museum setting.
One of the early open-air museums that was created in the United States
is Old Sturbridge Village, which consist of typical dwellings moved
to create an imaginary village of New England at the time period of 1840.
The village is full of artifacts which reflect the occupations, and culture
of a real place in time. Individuals wearing thoroughly researched reproductions
of period clothing, speaking as a specific or composite character from the
past with the proper accent, and appearing in a carefully restored, or reconstructed,
and period furnished structures. Even the outside or open-air landscapes
provide settings that may include period approbate plants and animals. It
is often said, that living history practitioners don't just present interpretive
programs, they eat historic foods, and live, and sleep in their favorite
time periods. In open-air museums and living history theme parks, living
history also serves as a marking tool which is meant to lure visitors to
Frank Spinney was a museum innovator who passed away on June 4, 2002,
at the age of 93. Frank O. Spinney who played a principal role in
the formation of Old Sturbridge Village, the outdoor historical museum
in Massachusetts. He was a leader in professionalizing the field of outdoor
historical museum work in the United States, was a professor of museum studies
at Oneonta College in Oneonta, New York for some years. From 1984
to 1962, Mr. Spinney was chief executive of Old Sturbridge Village,
in southern Massachusetts,. It was founded in 1949 to show visitors what
life was like in a small town in New England in the early nineteenth century.
Jack Larkin, Old Sturbridge Village's director of research,
collections and library, says that Mr. Spinney, was the chief executive
who emphasized careful research, and historical accuracy, a course that
the institution has followed ever since. While Mr. Spinney was in charge,
Old Sturbridge Village made many of its most important acquisitions
of old buildings, which now total 40 structures that were moved to its site.
They are viewed by 400,000 visitors, a year. Mr. Spinney also improved the
organization of the village's professional stall and began to expand its
educational programs. Guides at Old Sturbridge Village, in period
costume explains the working of a rural New England community of 1840's
Places such as Plymouth Plantation documents a specific time, and
place in history. It is greatly dependent upon detailed studies, and reports
by historians, cultural anthropologists, and others who have studies the
material culture of the past. Historical archaeologists and architectural
historians play a key role in creating the proper setting for these historical
sites, and buildings on their original settings which other parks only create
sites that represent the past whose atmosphere may suffer greatly from modern
intrusions. However, this may apply to even original historical settings,
the problems of the modern world moving in. Museum curators, educational
and public program coordinators, interpreters, and volunteers use living
history as a tool to represent, and preserve the past in various types of
Living history is an alternative to the old dusty, dry, static, exhibiting
methods of the past where individuals went out, and collecting things, and
assembled them into a museum setting. Living history is a method of "time
traveling," and "an attempt by people to simulate life in another
time," according to Jay Anderson in his "A Living History Reader."
Often before a site is opened to the public, a mission statement is developed,
hopefully by the staff who will work there. The mission statement will determine
the focus of the sites interpretation. This is done by a careful analysis
of several factors including the physical collections, and the documentation
supporting them, the geographic location of the site or the museum, the
physical plant, and the resources available to the staff. Then interpretive
objects are developed for the site and for each building. What objects are
significant, and what are less critical because of such factors as short
attention spans, average length of a visit, visitor flow and decisions on
what and how to interpret.
Living history historians analysis their collections with information provided
by archeologists, folklorists, and open-air museum executives who began
experimenting with the technique after World War Two in the United States
and Europe. One of the main motivations is to interpret the material culture.
This tests the thesis of archaeologists, and provides enjoyment in a recreational
activity, and also provides a learning experience as well. In Europe, they
are either called open-air, or folk parks which were the models for "open-air"
museums in the Unites States such as Colonial Williamsburg. Here
at Colonial Williamsburg, their greatest asset is the interpreters,
and second is the collection of stuff which forms the living history museum.
The preservation of buildings, objects, process, and the activities of everyday
life in period, town and rural settings which use the material culture that
is not found in traditional history.
Living history programs perhaps first began with the furnishing of interior
of historical structures, and then the idea of dressing interpreters in
period costumes as living objects. In the 1960's, living history moved into
the area of agricultural history. This program called for the operation
historical farms which illustrates a variety of regions and historical periods
across the country. The living historical farm programs in the National
Park Service called for the emphasis on trying to interpret the peaceful,
and inspirational creative contributions of this country in the field of
history. This was designed to complement the great emphasis that has been
placed so far on historical birthplaces and battlefields. Programs started
in "living farm" studies first in conjunction with the Smithsonian
Farmers, historians, folklorists, archaeologists, educations, and others
developed living history to represent living history farms, agricultural
museums, small historic house museums, historic mills, and factories, maritime
museums, and military sites. Here crafts and trades people reproduce, and
demonstrate material objects, and their processes. However, the general
public remains for the most part, uninformed about how to understand, and
just what they see, and hear. Visitors assume that the information presented
at living history museums is accurate. Many staff members who have become
bored in their jobs, and should have moved on years ago, often are convinced
of the fact, tell them anything and they will go away believing it. Many
visitors do not have the knowledge to distinguish from accurate and inaccurate
information presented. There is often too much visual stimulation with the
environment, and interpreters enhancing the experience for visitors. The
staff and the visitors sometimes are more enjoying themselves than simply
analyzing the situation. There is pressure on the staff of an historic site
to move beyond the process found just in their historical settings, and
to get to the real issues of a time past. Many of these living history sites
only final product is a demonstration of a daily, or seasonal task, or process.
However with an historic mill your mission statement may be just that, a
demonstration of daily, and seasonal tasks that show the milling process.
Living history museums should bring us closer to the human side of our collective
history. It is important to have the interpreters involved in the research
process. They must have access to the primary documents, and formulate their
own opinions, and should not be handed bound volumes assembled by people
who they may never meet. By interacting with real people, we gain a better
understanding of our lives led by our ancestors. How can interpreters gain
a better understanding if they are not involved in the process of creation.
They are the ones who create a window to the past, and who make living history
a relaxing way to learn about the past.
The living farm concept accelerated other living history activities already
in place in the National Park Service. Besides Park Rangers dressed in ranger
uniforms, interpreters now could be found in period dress during the summer
months. Living interpretation demonstrations farming activities in period
dress. Programs of living interpretation at each of the historic areas where
appropriate, sometimes this involved: uniformed military drill and firing,
or cooking, baking, sewing, and candle making demonstrations. By the 1970's
many parks, and sites were listing the various types of living history programs
they presented that went along with their themes and mission statements.
"Hands-on," and "interactive" have become buzz words
of museum education, and interpretation for traditional living history sites,
as well as historic houses, and gallery museums. Another word now associated
with education, for good and bad, is "entertainment" is must be
fun as well as educational. Now living history is associated with social
history, the history of ordinary people, and everyday life. The so-called
"new" social history focused on the understudied, groups of people,
or individuals distinguished only by race, ethnicity and gender. We have
as of yet not fully explore all the social issues. For example, Colonial
Williamsburg may have developed social history programs, but they have
yet to restore the so-called other side of the tracks, where the common
everyday folk lived along with the sleaze. To do this at Colonial Williamsburg,
one would have to eliminate down the modern town of Williamsburg.
Living history at Colonial Williamsburg hinges on their assumption
that the craft apprentice program in America was different that that in
England, and elsewhere (such as Europe). They assume that the apprentice
system (of guilds, the apprentice, the journeyman and the master) was not
the traditional practice in which the master kept secrets from his apprentices,
and the general public. In reality each apprentice would learn different
information from another that worked beside them, and it would take years
for two apprentices to piece together the others knowledge, to make sense
of it as a whole. They are convinced that the apprenticeship system as found
in America was different, so that others, not part of the trade were allowed
to watch, or witness the craftsman practicing their trades. This may work
well for presenting living history programs, but may not be period approbate
to what had happened in reality, and historically in America. I believe
that Oliver Evans was the first to begin to change the trades of the miller,
millstone dresser, and millwright by putting down information that could
be learned by books, and trial and error. Because of Oliver Evans, it no
longer would individuals spend years to learn a trade. When "The
Young Mill-Wright and Miller's Guide," was first published in 1795,
this is when the first change took place. Oliver Evans' information in his
book is not complete, and you still need prior knowledge to understand it.
It was not until after Oliver Evans' death did his book undergo further
changes and became fiddled with to move things and information to be more
complete. If you had itinerant workers (millstone dressers, millwrights
and other tradesman) who traveled the country practicing their craft it
would make sense that the complete system as found in Europe, would have
also been part of it. Just because we were in America, that does not mean
it was any different. Living in an English colony, being part of the apprenticeship
system was the only protection of rights an individual had being in some
cases good and in others bad. This is why Benjamin Franklin ran away from
his bad master as a printer apprentice, and then tried to present himself
off as being a journeyman with out the years, and certification that the
trade brings with it. Traditionally the miller told the farmer to leave
his grain, and come back later for it. In this way, traditionally they would
not be allowed in the mill while the grain was being ground, so they would
not learn the miller's secrets, or see any of the machinery apart. This
is why the folklore, and tradition has developed about going to the mill
with the family to make use of the fishing, swimming, ice skating or picnicking
outside of the mill, while they waited for their (turn) grain to be ground
inside of the mill.
This is the October 17, 1801 issue of the Aurora and General Advertiser
newspaper published in Philadelphia by William Duane. It has a long, 1/2
column ad offering for sale a mill and plantation located at White Clay
and Mill Creek Hundreds in New Castle County, Delaware. The ad describes
the mills and the plantation that consisted of 1128 acres of land, a grist
mill, a corn kiln, a saw mill, farms, dwelling houses, and woodland. The
property was being offered for sale by Blair McClenachan. The paper states:
"A Complete Merchant Mill with four pair of Stones, and elevating Machinery
on the late improved plan, with Corn-Kiln, Saw-Mill, on the navigable waters
of White-Clay Creek, whcih admits wagons up to the Mill door to load and
unload. Large quanities of grain may be purchased from waggons passing by
on the Baltimore great Road.......shop for a Copper, with many other convences
for carrying on the milling business on a large scale." An improved
plan would be an Oliver Evans system of automated flour milling.
The miller is then also the source of some of the folklore about the
mill. The spirits of the wind, and the water can be evil, and unfriendly
to man. The local town folk are likewise sources of the stories told about
the mill, the miller may have told the first story to protect his trade.
He tells stories about the mill to keep people from going to the mill, and
accidentally seeing machinery apart, or seeing the miller practicing his
craft, and thus learning some of his secrets. This a big part of traditional
life that Colonial Williamsburg is missing out on, are stories about
the miller due to the problem with operating wind mills and dust explosions.
The blacksmith because he works with fire and may be in league with the
devil. After all, the blacksmith shop at times smells and clouds of black
smoke billow from it like the fires of hell.
Then there is other folklore traditionally associated with other trades
and crafts. It seems that Colonial Williamsburg have discounted these
as being only affiliated with the "Old World." They make it seem
like we were a step above those folks, being free and open, in a so-called
"brave" New World. As if they were still living back in the "Old
World" or the "dark ages" back in Europe in an outdated system.
It was not until about 1830 did people go out after dark for fear of being
overtaken by the night. So much for Sleepy Hollow, and the story
about first American ghost. The late Charles Howell would hesitate
to discuss my theories of the apprenticeship system in America, perhaps
for fears of upsetting the "living history" programs even at Philipsburg
Manor Upper Mills. Charlie Howell would talk about the itinerant
millstone dresser who traveled the countryside in Colonial America, and
back in England. The miller too, was subject to apprenticeship, and the
journeyman would have to find a miller to work in after a period of time.
There are countless 1700's newspaper ads that state that a slave or apprentice
has run off taking his master's (great) coat with him. Sometimes it continues
to say, "He was a poor apprentice. You are free to keep him, and do
with him as you will, but please return the coat." Many things would
change and alter the basic program of living history which is costume interpretation
According to Carl Bridenbaugh in his book, "The Colonial
Craftsman," he states that for the most part the European craft
system was set up in various parts of America. There were two types of apprenticeship
in the colonies, as in England, "voluntary" and "compulsory."
Voluntary apprenticeship was with the consent of the parents, and compulsory
was to turn bastards and orphans into useful labor. Then if the craftsman
was given the right of citizenship, that obligated him to preform only within
his social position. The colonial social structure resembled a truncated
pyramid for no king or nobles occupied the positions at the top. Thus the
customary separation of men then applied, "the better (at the top),
the middlings (in the middle), and the inferior sorts (and at the bottom)."
The craftsman could occupy every rank, from the top all the way down to
the bottom which was occupied by the white indentured servants and the slaves.
The country artisan definitely belonged to the "middling sort,"
while the city artisan occupied "the better" position. In the
eighteenth century clothes did not necessarily make the man, but his dress
was a badge of his class. The winning of the American Revolution was only
a wedge, it was not until the emergence of the common man did the political,
and social status of the tradesman become equal to the economic achievements.
Craftsman made things for use and of beauty so when American industry developed
in the mid-1800's they labored only for the manufacturers, and their efforts
turned only into wages. What was lost, was a great deal of material culture,
were once the object was made by a craftsman who took pride in his work,
and placed his name upon it, to objects that simply became products where
the companies' name may or may not have been placed on the object. The worker
only then took pride in his work if he or she was satisfied with their wages,
and working conditions. The individual became lost in a world of mass produced
items where each one had to looking like the other, and in time the worker
became just another face in the factory system where each worker looked
like the other one.
The "middling sort" or "machanick" during their period
of apprenticeship would have to sign an indenture form, "shall his
said Master _____________faithful serve, his secrets keep, his lawful Commands
gladly every where Obey; he shall do no damage to his said Master, nor see
to be done by Others without letting or giving Notice to his said Master;
he shall not waste his said Master's Goods, no lend them unlawfully to any;
he shall not Commit fornication no Contract Matrimony within the said Term.
At Cards, Dice, or any Other unlawful Game he shall not play, whereby his
said Master may have Damage, with his Own Goods or the Goods of those during
the said Term without Lycence from his said Master he shall neither buy
nor sell. He shall not absent himself Day or Night from his Master's service
without his leave, nor haunt Alehouse or Playhouses, but in all things as
faithful apprentice he shall behave himself toward his said Master, and
all during the said Terms." This is from "Indentures of Apprentices,
1718-1728," New York Historical Society, Collections, 1909.
We tend to forget that in the United States even into the beginning of the
twentieth century, that almost every county had their own "poor house"
or "poor farm." If you went there, and died there, you name (and
faith) would tend to be forgotten, or lost like some many others.
I set the bench mark at 1850's to the 1860's, when other trades also began
to change the apprenticeship system. It began to break down further after
1860 when America could no longer be considered agricultural. America was
not industrialized or factory dependent for goods. The average worker simply
became a skilled or unskilled worker in a factory. There were some exceptions,
like the machinist, and other select groups of other specialized high skilled
trades (like pattern makers) where this industrialization of America did
not effect. Colonial Williamsburg's social history program of today
means that they could not keep the trades and crafts separate from other
members of society or the modern visitors. African-Americans would not share
their knowledge of their trades, if they did, it would lower their prestige,
importance, and the concept that they were some how above the poor whites
who had no trades. Keeping the secrets of their trades meant that they were
almost on an equal with the freed slaves who were practicing their trades
in the outside world. If the African-Americans shared the secrets of their
trades that they had been given, they would down slide back to being just
another commodity to be traded like other African-Americans farther South
who had not been give the skills, and knowledge to work their way to freedom
on the level of a craftsman. Knowledge, education, ability in other words
It may be one thing to overcome white wash, and white faces of Colonial
Williamsburg early restored history, but to overcome the social morals over
social history. The places in society that were designed to teach social
morals are the schools and places of worship have failed, so it may be the
new challenge to teach social morals by creating an understanding of multiple
perspectives, of the poor, rural, immigrants, the affluent classes, and
what transcends all classes and stations in life is social morals. This
determines interaction, conflict, and compromise. It also involves the legal,
and justice systems which for the most part open-air living history museums
Living history museums which demonstrate farming activities, and the seasonal
work patterns provide plenty of material for public programing. The problem
of moving beyond these daily tasks to show their meaning, and symbolism
poses a challenge for a number of sites. The relationship between the farmers
to the tradesman, craftsman and artisans, to the new working class, the
poor, the immigrants, the slaves, and other issues are largely unexplored
in living history sites. Some critics of living history programs, and the
cost of their budgets have referred to them as "soap opera history."
This is one of the things that St. Mary's City has been criticized
for is doing its own style of soap opera living history. The mere act of
being, and surviving is perhaps the only celebration of the progress, and
passage of time. We have tended to use information collected by folklore
and behavioral studies, but what is the real significance of people actions
and attitudes, and the relationship to the larger world may yet be unpresented.
Living history practitioners are inclined towards independent study. Living
history interpreters need training, but it is optimistic only to think that
they can perfect presentations only by the passage of time without any real
study or instruction. Research may be a luxury in museums in times of low
attendance and budget cuts. It may be narrow thinking to assume that only
grand funding supports research, and donation supports programing and museum
object culture. There has to be appreciation and support for research as
part of living history museums of early America. Lack of funding is a poor
excuse for not doing a good job, or having done proper research. Living
history interpretation means that you have created a plan, allocated the
full resources of time, money and expertise to deliver a product that is
unique. If off of these are not in place you would be better of to go back
to the sterile museums with occasional guides or museum guards.
Part of the problems of living history is the push from interpretation,
to the value of products for sale through the various history associations.
Living history may be entertaining, but it has to directly support the central
park theme. Living history demonstrations that are focused to support museum
sales is done for the wrong reasons. It is nice to produce products that
can be sold in the museum shops or at other sides but it should not be the
driving force for the public programs. Inappropriate living history is not
merely harmless diversion. The more "living history" it is, the
more likely it is to give visitors their strongest impression of this experience.
Most living history programs are obsessed with showing what everyday life
was like in the past. However, most of our historic places are not preserved
because of the everyday life that occurred there. The living history programs
have to portray the everyday activity with an understanding and appreciation
of the momentous significance, and consequences of historical events that
would otherwise make interpretive guide programs perhaps boring to the average
Living history must have accuracy in research, and information presented
for it to be an important educational tool. Non-sophisticated living history
builds only on historic stereotypes, entertaining visitors rather than to
educate them. Social history offers the opportunities to develop and increase
research. Social historians may explore previously unstudied aspects of
the past developing programs once deemed unworthy by traditional living
history. Many gaps in narratives of the past remain hidden or undisclosed
in documents. Living history remains the best medium to present just this
kind of information, but the interpreters must be will trained, and versed
in the research. Knowledge of material, and social culture is just one part
of the triangle of living history. There three sides are knowledge, research
and presentation. Interpreters must have good training in historical content,
education, and presentation for the triangle to work. A challenge for supervisors,
and administrators is to budget time for training interpreters, and for
research, maintain, and develop the site and to accomplish the mission statement.
"Living history" deals with the recreation of the past with people
dressed as in days gone by rather than as the ghosts of the past who would
other wise walk around in silence in our presence. Interpreters often presented
living history as "reliving the past," and invited their audience
to "step back in time." Every place must realize that not every
park, historical site does not need living history programs for effective
interpretation. Living history should be presented to enhance or reinforce
interpretation, and not to detract from it.
Marcella Sherfy of the History Division in Washington warned against
such pretenses when, in fact, only certain physical details or aspects of
the past could be reenacted: "Even having steeped ourselves in the
literature of the period, worn its clothes, and slept on its beds, we never
shed [present] perspectives and values. And from those perspectives and
values, we judge and interpret the past. We simply cannot be another person
and know his time as he knew it or value what he valued for his reasons....Time
past has, very simply, passed."
The 1980 edition of the National Park Service's Interpretation Guideline
(NPS-6) refined the standards for living history in a manner clearly reflecting
the critics' concerns. Some excerpts are as follows:
1. Interpretive presentations [i.e., demonstrations, living history] are
frequently personnel and cost intensive; they are more easily and inappropriately
treated as educational or entertainment ends in themselves rather than as
vehicles for sparking further public interest in park resources; they have
a greater potential to be out of step with principal park themes....
2. In parks established to commemorate major historical figures, specific
events, or political, military actions and ideas, interpretive presentations
that illustrate period lifestyles will usually not be appropriate [e.g.,
crafts at a battlefield]....
3. All presentations dealing with history and pre-history must meet criteria
for honesty as well as accuracy. Specifically: Presentations are not described
or advertised as portraying "the past" but as limited illustrations
of some scattered elements of previous activity, skills or crafts.
4. "Facts," examples, and anecdotes are not selected or used out
of context to make a particular point or to communicate personal or contemporary
social and political beliefs.
5. The reactions of historic people to past ideas and events are described
in the context of past ideas and perceptions. We do not assume or suggest
that historic people reacted to or felt about certain situations the way
that we would unless there is strong evidence to support that pattern.
6. Costumes, equipment, speech patterns, etc., are specifically described
to the public as being the most accurate reproductions we are able to obtain,
rather than as "just like they had."
7. The individual experiences, events, or ideas being presented are chosen
and expressed in such a way as to portray the full contributions or "personalities"
of the ethnic groups, cultures, or people whose history is being commemorated.
In Freeman Tilden's book "Interpreting our Heritage,"
he talks about the fundamentals of interpretation. "If this had been
a book merely about the gadgetry and methodology of interpretation, it long
ago would have been obsolete." Freeman Tilden was a pioneer
of interpretation, its philosophy and recognized as the father of modern
park interpretation. He made a profound mark on the National Park conservation
movement in America. The six guiding principles and underlying philosophy
of the interpreter's art and craft
1. Any interpretation that does not somehow relate what is being displayed
or described to something within the personality or experience of the visitor
will be sterile.
2. Information, as such, is not Interpretation. Interpretation is revelation
based upon information. But they are entirely different things. However,
all interpretation includes information.
3. Interpretation is an art, which combines many arts, whether the material
presented are scientific, historical, or architectural. Any art in some
degree is teachable.
4. The chief aim of Interpretation is not instruction, but provocation.
5. Interpretation should aim to present a whole rather than a part, and
must address itself to the whole man rather than any phase.
6. Interpretation addressed to children (say, up to the age of twelve) should
not be a dilution of the presentation to adults, but should follow a fundamentally
different approach. To be at its best it will require a separate program.
One of the problems with the National Park Service is that time, and
time again, someone always write about how the interpretation in the N.P.S.
is in crisis. It does the best that it can given the shrinking resources
that it receives in its budget with each passing year. Perhaps the real
crisis is that the National Park Service wears to many hats, and in the
process of politics become poor keepers of our national treasures. One of
the friendly helpful park ranger, and the other side is one is of a person
dressed in its neo-military style uniform. The Canadian National Park Service
just wears a simple colored polo shirt with an emblem on it, none of this
military style police uniform business. In a May 19, 2002, newspaper article
, that appeared in the Virginian-Pilot Sunday Commentary section
entitled, "A monumentally bizarre plan to mess up the National Mall,"
reporter Jonathan Yardley describes the National Park Service Ranger
as having two faces. "Like the Greek masks of a comedy and tragedy,
the National Park Service wears two faces. One is jolly and warm and fuzzy:
the smiling park ranger who's eager to tell you the story of the Lost colony
at the Fort Raleigh National Site, who directs you to the best view of the
Grand Canyon, who give a helping hand when you have a flat tire in Muir
Woods. Then there's the Park Service here in the nation's capital: a wily,
secretive player in the Washington power game, a henchman of the edifice-complex
gang, a brusque cop bulling ordinary people as they visit the local monuments
and other treasures that fall under the service's authority." Gee,
after working for the National Park Service in Washington, D.C., for many
years, I think I know who he was talking about in the second description
of a National Park Service Ranger.
Some of the most effective living history presentations I have seen was
without all of the handicaps of structures, walls, roofs and flooring, and
the collections of interior artifacts. It was presented in the historical
space. The outlines of structures were staked off, and rope attached to
the stakes to define the walls and rooms, and to mark open doorways. The
only articles in the interior space was limited to stools, chairs and tables,
and small items on the table tops. The visitors were allowed to look through
the walls at the action inside as if they were looking back into time at
the people dressed in period clothing. It reminded me of watching theater
in the round, with the exception that you were not limited by having to
remain seated in one place the entire performance.
Some of the disadvantages of living history programs include:
1. The high cost.
2. The constant need for on-going training and research.
3. Limited perception of history as presented in programs.
4. A tendency to romanticize the past.
5. The risk to artifacts and structures exhibited in living history settings.
6. The need for good orientation to prepare visitors to living history programs.
7. The treat that first-person interpretation poses to some audiences.
8. The problem of inadequate research and inadequate documentation being
9. Modern perception of cleanliness which influence the museum and its landscape.
10. Buildings and interpreters often remain pristine and house of worship
11. Costumes are never dirty, torn, or show signs of wear, or that they
may have been handed down so because they were made to find another individual.
They look as if they are always bought just off the rack.
12. A general lack of presentation of urban and industrial history and how
it effects individuals lives.
13. A challenge to overcome the "Little-House-on-the-Prairie"
or "Little-museum-on-the-Prairie" mentality, understanding of
history and its importance.
14. A strong interest in "Mickey Mouse" view and understanding
of history and a heavier emphasis on entertainment than on education.
15. It is not a period approbate activity to take individuals on tours.
16. "Old ladies" like to "grandma tour houses," and
anything that represents technology is something far too difficult to understand
or interpret. Curators are only trained to furnish homes and not other type
of structures so we won't deal with it.
17. Living history demonstrations that explain the working of a craft or
trade to visitors are going against the traditional apprenticeship programs
of keeping it a trade secret. It is not a period approbate activity to present
to visitors this false depiction of life. It is a romantic notion that mills
and other crafts shops allowed in visitors off the street to see the inter
workings of these trades being practiced.
18. You don't always find a broad range of age groups working at living
history parks. Many parks are only open during the summer months and only
employ students at student wages.
19. The misconception that anyone who can fit into a period costume can
do living history.
20. Some interpreters like to play dress-up and invent things as they go
21. Modern museum regulations can be easily imposed upon living history
interpreters and present a false view of the past.
Some of the advantages of living history programs include:
1. The use of social history to present different views of people, life,
land use, work and the past.
2. Opportunities afforded by the techniques to breathe life into written
historical accounts by having them acted out rather than traditional methods.
3. Demonstrations show process and artifacts used in context.
4. Historical process can be explored and presented that have become largely
unknown or not understood today.
5. Experimental living history and archeology can be used to discover things
that documented history does not teach us.
6. The techniques of living history engage visitors.
7. A grassroots view of history can be presented. How a community or group
of people lived, worked and interacted together for the common good.
8. Visitors are dashed out of the passive "museum stroll" or a
tape recorder playing in the ear as they walk though history.
9. Visitors can explore and discover the past with the interpreters.
10. In many cases, the visitors can learn by hands-on and interactive activities.
11. Living history remains the best mode of presenting and provoking thought
about the past.
12. Living history is an exhilarating and satisfactory experience for the
visitor and interpreter alike.
13. This is a wonderful method for home school children to spend part of
their school time working and breathing living history programs.
14. Living history offers opportunities for volunteers of all ages to do
a variety of work from behind the scenes to working with groups of visitors.
15. Donated objects or artifacts can actually be used in a setting and time
period in which they were originally used.
16. It shows that people of the past were people just like us, and give
the interpreter the ability to compare and contrast.
17. It is a more personal way to share knowledge of history and the past,
and in this way each new visit becomes a new experience.
18. The exhibits and activities of living history become more interesting
to children and families.
19. Living history is a means of using interpreters of all ages.who can
help you understand the various customs and different ways of doing things
in a set time period.
20 Living history allows interpreters to use period tools and techniques
in the practice of trades and crafts.
21. Living history is a means of providing on going research into the methods
of the past and to preserve these skills for future generations.
22. Living history is a means that modern=day interpreters can be a personal
bridge between the present and the past.
23. With living history, visitors can have fun and have a good time!
24. First-person living history is a means of learning about the "current
events" of the past, the values and attitudes of people at a time in
25. It is also a means about learning about one's dress, speech, and manners
of the individuals of the past.
Selected Readings on Living History Interpretation - Published
William T. Alderson and Shirley Payne Low, "Interpretation of Historic
Sites," Nashville: American Association for State and Local History,
Alsford, Stephen and David Parry, "Interpretive Theatre: A Role
In Museums?" Museum Management and Curatorship 10, 1991, pages
Anderson, Jay, "A Living History Reader. Volume One: Museums,"
Nashville: American Association for State and Local History, 1991.
Anderson, Jay, "The Living History Sourcebook." Nashville:
American Association for State and Local History, 1985.
Anderson, Jay, "Time Machines: The World of Living History,"
Association for State and Local History, 1984.
Bicknell, Sandra and Susie Fisher, "Enlightening or Embarrassing?
Drama in the Science Museum, London, United Kingdom," Visitor Studies:
Theory Research and Practice 6, Jacksonville, Alabama: Visitor Studies Association,
1993, pages 79-87.
Dewar, Keith, "Monitoring and Evaluation of Sender Competence in
Personal Service Interpretive Programs," PhD Thesis, Department
of Geography, University of Waterloo, Waterloo, Ontario, Canada, 1991.
Ecroyd, Donald H., "Living History," Eastern National Park
and Monument Association, 1990.
Ecroyd, Donald H., "Talking with Young Visitors in the Parks,"
Eastern National Park & Monument Association, 1989.
Ellis, Rex, "Re: Living History: Bringing Slavery Into Play,"
American Visions, December-January 1993, pages 22-25.
Falk, John H. and Lynn D. Dierking, "Learning from Museums: Visitor
Experiences and the Making of Meaning," Walnut Creek, Alta Mira
Falk, John H. and Lynn Dierking, "The Museum Experience,"
Washington, D.C., Whalesback Books, 1992.
Gibson-Quigley, Sandra, and Susan Rowden, "Social Change in America
1790-1840: Teaching About Life in the New Republic," Magazine of
History, volume 2, number 2, Winter 1986, pages 22-30.
Green, Vicki Ann, "An Oral History of a Field Trip: A Study of Participants'
Historical Imagination in 'Action' and 'Artifact Within Action,"
PhD Thesis, Dept. of Social and Natural Sciences, University of Victoria,
Grinder, Alison L. and E. Sue McCoy, "The Good Guide: A Source Book
for Interpreters, Docents and Tour Guides," Scottsdale, Arizona,
Ironwood Press, 1985.
Holbrook, Hal. Mark, "Twain Tonight!: An Actor's Portrait,"New
Yor, Ives Washburn, 1959.
Hooper-Greenhill, Eilean, "Museums and their Visitors,"
London: Routledge, 1994.
Jones, Dale, "Living History in the City," History News,
volume 50, number 3, pages 10-13.
Krugler, John D., "Behind the Public Presentations: Research and
Scholarship at Living History Museums of Early America," William
and Mary Quarterly, Third Series 48, July 1991, pages 347-386.
Leon, Warren and Margaret Piatt, "Living History Museums,"
in Warren Leon and Roy Rozenweig, eds., "History Museums in the
United State, A Critical Assessment," Urbana and Chicago, University
of Illinois Press, 1989, pages 64-97.
Lowenthal, David, "The Past is a Foreign Country," Cambridge
University Press, 1988.
Machlis, Gary E. and Donald R. Field, eds., "On Interpretation:
Sociology for Interpreters of Natural and Cultural History," Revised
edition, Corvallis, Oregon: Oregon State University Press, 1992.
Mackintosh, Barry, "Interpretation in the National Park Service:
A Historical Perspective," Washington, DC: History Division, National
Park Service, Department of the Interior, 1986.
Majewski, Janice, "Part of Your General Public is Disabled: A Handbook
for Guides in Museums, Zoos, and Historic Houses," Washington,
DC: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1987.
Moscardo, Gianna M. and Philip L. Pearce, "Historic Theme Parks:
An Australian Experience In Authenticity," Annals of Tourism Research
13, 1986, pages 467-479.
"Museum Theater: Many Roles, Many Players, Many Places, Many Reasons,"
Journal of Museum Education, volume 15, number 2, Spring-Summer 1990. Special
issue devoted to museum theater.
Pearce, P.L., "The Ulysses Factor: Evaluating Visitors In Tourist
Settings," New York, Springer-Verlag 1988.
Rayner, Sue Sturtevant, and Judithe Douglas Speidel, "Learning Theories
and History Museums," History News, volume 42, number 4, July-August
1987, pages 23-26.
Regnier, Kathleen, Michael Gross, and Ron Zimmerman, "The Interpreter's
Guidebook: Techniques for Programs and Presentations," Interpreter's
Handbook Series, Stevens Point, Wisconsin: UW-SP Foundation Press, 1994.
Risk, Paul. "On-Site Real-Time Observational Techniques and Responses
to Visitor Needs," in Uzzell, David, ed., "Heritage Interpretation.
Volume 2, The Visitor Experience," New York and London, Belhaven
Press, 1989, pages 120-128.
Robertshaw, Andrew, "From Houses Into Homes: One Approach to Live
Interpretation," Journal of Social History Curator's Group 19,
1992, pages 14-20.
Roos, Pieter N., and Carolyn B. Wilkinson, "Operating Instructions
for the Visitor: An Outline for Museum Orientation Exhibits," History
News, volume 47, number 4, July-August 1992, pages 20-23.
Roth, Stacy Flora, "Communicating in First-Person: Perspectives
on Interpreter-Visitor Interaction," Langhorne, Pennsylvania, The
Roth, Stacy Flora, "Past Into Present: Effective Techniques for
First-Person Historical Interpretation," University of North Carolina
Schlebecker, John, "Living Historical Farms: A Walk to the Past,"
Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C. 1968.
Schlereth, Thomas J., "The Historic Museum Village as a Learning
Environment," The Museologist 141, June 1977, pages 10-18.
Snow, Stephen Eddy, "Performing the Pilgrims: A Study of Ethnohistorical
Role-Playing at Plimoth Plantation.," Jackson: University Press
of Mississippi, 1993.
Stillman, Diane Brandt, "Living History in an Art Museum,"
Journal of Museum Education, volume 15, number :2, Spring-Summer 1990, pages
Stover, Kate F., "Interpretation of Historical Conflict in Living
History Museums," MA Thesis, John F. Kennedy University, 1988.
Stover, Kate F., "Is it REAL History Yet?: An Update on Living History
Museums," Journal of American Culture, volume 12, number 2, Summer
1989, pages 13-17.
Sussman, Vic., "From Williamsburg to Conner Prairie: Living History
Museums Bring Bygone Days to Life but Not Always Accurately," U.S.
News and World Report, volume 107, number 4, July 24, 1989, pages 58-62.
Tilden, Freeman, "Interpreting Our Heritage," Chapel Hill,
North Carolina, University of North Carolina Press, 1984, The University
of North Carolina Press, 1957.
Trenouth, Peter. "Pilgrim Summer," English Journal, volume
75, number 5, September 1986, pages 24-29.
Turner, Victor, and Edith Turner, "Performing Ethnography,"
Drama Review, volume 26, number 2, 1982, pages 33-50.
"Turning Back Time in Maine," Yankee 52, June 1988, pages
Uzzell, David, ed., "Heritage Interpretation," 2 Volumes,
New York and London, Belhaven Press, 1989.
Van Ments, Morry, "The Effective Use of Role-Play: A Handbook for
Teachers and Trainers," New York, Nicholas, 1989.
Vanderstel, David G., "Humanizing the Past: The Revitalization of
the History Museum," Journal of American Culture, volume 12, number
2, Summer 1989, pages 19-25.
Vukelich, Ronald, "Time Language for Interpreting History Collections
to Children," Museum Studies Journal, volume 1, number 7, Fall
1984, pages 43-50.
Walsh, Kevin, "The Representation of the Past: Museums in the Post-Modern
World," New York and London: Routledge, 1992.
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