Armstrong State University in Savannah, Georgia has been training students in Public History since 1987. Having previously worked museum settings such as Old Salem, Inc. and Historic Bethabara Park in North Carolina and the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, three museums which specialize in interpreting the eighteenth century, I brought a variety of personal experiences with me when I joined the faculty in 1993. I have done extensive work in craft demonstration (blacksmithing, tobacco processing, vegetable dyeing, timber framing, and gardening), historical archaeology, first-person character interpretation, and seventeenth and eighteenth-century dance performance.

A former colleague at Colonial Williamsburg once shared a bit of wisdom with me. Janea Whitacre, Mistress of the Millinery and Mantua-Making Trades, told me she believed no one could truly understand what it was like to be a woman living in the eighteenth century unless s/he had been laced up in stays. I’ve thought a great deal about that over the years and as a result have striven to bring the diverse interpretive skills I’ve learned into the classroom. When teaching courses in colonial and revolutionary America, for example, my students are often surprised to learn they are about to be outfitted in eighteenth-century garb or learn eighteenth-century country dances. The last couple of years I have been using the Reacting to the Past series where students relive and recreate historical events like the American Revolution in New York in classroom settings. I find that a mixture of approaches enlivens the classroom and speaks to non-traditional learners.

I have used more direct, hands-on approaches teaching early American history through field schools, taking students to a variety of different museums and historic sites to perform tasks like document historic structures through measured drawings (most recently crypts in Savannah’s Colonial Park Cemetery) or participate in archaeological excavations and restoration projects. For the latter, I have taught students how to hew beams and cut joints to raise buildings. Such projects have helped interpret a wide range of early American sites including a slave cabin site at a Georgia plantation and an eighteenth-century garden in North Carolina. Such endeavors are doubly beneficial, for not only do the students learn interpretive skills, but the museums gain publicity and raise awareness as the public and news media flock to investigate the unusual activity. It also brings out new unexpected audiences. The recreation of the Bethabara Community Garden I discussed at last year’s NCPH meeting developed new audiences for the museum among members of the garden club community, organic farmers, plant breeders, and birders. Attracting people with a specific interest gave the museum new opportunities to educate them much more broadly.

Perhaps through my work with historic gardens, I have developed a current research interest in early American foodways. My focus has been the work of Mary Randolph and her classic cookbook, The Virginia Housewife. Studying the history of the cookery book as a form and the origins of southern cooking, I have discovered new audiences interested in early recipes, cooking techniques, and other food traditions, and am finding myself literally educating the public about early America through their stomachs. Just as the Bethabara garden project resulted in organic farmer learning about eighteenth-century Germans settling in North Carolina, people involved in the farm-to-table movement are learning about cooking during the “long eighteenth-century.”

While I mostly work with more hands-on aspects of public history, I have been involved in one extremely exciting digital history project, the Virtual Historic Savannah Project as a social history content supervisor. The site “documents the evolution of urban form by combining architectural and social history research with 3D computer and database technology.” ( Begun in 1997 and funded in part by grants from the National Endowment for the Humanities and the Georgia Humanities Council, Virtual Historic Savannah allows researchers to travel virtually through Savannah’s National Landmark Historic District at any year since its founding in 1733, seeing 3D models of extant structures, lists of building owners and occupants, and contemporary and historic photos of 2,200 buildings. It serves as just one example of the type of database that can be developed to address social history questions involving issues such as race, gender, the environment, and trade.

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