I loathe history.
I know..I know, that seems ironic and maybe even hypocritical of me given that I am going on my 6th year as a Historic Interpreter, and I love my job! But allow me to explain.
Growing up, history was never one of my favorite subjects…those thick books with all those dates and wars and presidents and politics. I thought that’s what history was, my Dad loved it! And he would carry on about how great and interesting history was, and we’d go on vacation to historic sites and he would read every single plaque and sign….You see, what my dad failed to teach me in my early schooling that there are different kinds of history. I spent YEARS loathing history as it is taught for school education. Then I turned 18, and in my search for summer employment I stumbled across a job on Mackinac Island as a Historic House Interpreter, I looked over the job description, you get to cook over an open fire, do crafts, blacksmith, talk to people, dress up in costume etc, it paid just above minimum wage. Sounds good! So I applied not thinking I’d get it. Well then I got an interview! So my mom and I drove to Lansing through terrible icy roads. The interview I thought went well, but they told me 40 people applied for 5 positions…I was sure my chances were slim. A month or so later, I received a letter in the mail, what do you know, I got the job!
I called my dad to tell him, he said congrats, then laughed and laughed and laughed…his daughter, who hates history, was going to be a historic interpreter…
Well Dad, as it turns out, there is a lot more to history then dates, wars, presidents and politics. There were lives to be lived, food to be cooked and preserved, tools to be crafted, clothes to be made, goods to be bought or traded, houses to be built, food to be planted, animals to raise…well you get the idea. My point being, human beings are so much more than just a few key dates, our history is in our culture, in the WAY that we do things, not just what a few “important” people were doing.
We are doing our children, and ourselves, a great disservice by disconnecting the events of history from the daily life of history. Living history is a vital connection to the past, it allows us modern people to peek into the past, if just for a moment, to imagine life in the 20th, 19th, 18th, etc centuries.
“Living history can be a tool used to bridge the gap between school and daily life to educate people on historical topics. Living history is not solely an objective retelling of historical facts. Its importance lies more in presenting visitors with a sense of a way of life, than in recreating exact events, accurate in every detail.” – David Thelen
Now that I know there is more to history, particularly a history that I can relate to, I find it rather important to share that revelation with as many people as I can. Thankfully, I am a historic house interpreter, I talk to thousands of people a year about 18th and 19th century daily life, and love to see that “AhHa!” moment when they get it, they connect somehow to the past. Like the motto of Colonial Williamsburg “That the future may learn from the past.” Living history is of the utmost importance in teaching 21st century people a little bit of history.
So for all of you who think that history is boring. You’ve just been trying to learn it all the wrong way! Books are great, but a well-informed historical interpreter actually DOING something is even better.
Go out this summer and actually experience history, there are living history sites all over the country!
**shameless plug** though, Mackinac State Historic Parks runs some really top-notch sites as well, with well trained interpreters, full programming representing life for a variety of different people that spans the 18th-early 20th century at all of their sites. And for those of you in Michigan, it does wonders to help support Michigan’s economy.