My Public History Experience

November 7, 2018 |  Tagged , | Comments Off on My Public History Experience

1 Leave a comment on paragraph 1 0 Growing up in the Hudson Valley, history was always a normal component of everyday life. My hometown would (and still does) proudly display its founding year on just about every sign, and I distinctly remember that my Elementary School was located down the road from a Continental Army encampment site. Given that there was a lot of pride in the town, it would make sense to develop a love of history. I must admit though that, until I grew older, I never really understood the significance of it. Sure I was always very good at history in school, and sure there were plenty of houses and buildings around that I knew were old, but I never made the connection to how they related to the present. 

2 Leave a comment on paragraph 2 0 When I was in 10th Grade, my school had an after-school History Club. By this time the pressure to build up a list of extra-curricular activities for college applications had started to mount, so I decided to join the club as a resume builder. The meetings themselves were fine enough, but the one perk I was looking forward to was the field trip that took place in October. It was only a trip into town sponsored by the local historical society, but it got me out of a day of classes and that wasn’t an opportunity that many high school students could pass up! 

3 Leave a comment on paragraph 3 0 On the day of the field trip, the group met at our tour guide at a building called the Shingle House, an old white colonial house off of Main Street. As the tour guide took us through the house, she explained to us that, as the Shingle House was built almost 250 years ago, it was actually one of the oldest buildings in town. Through discussing the family that lived there, the guide painted a picture of what the area was like when it was settled in the 18th Century; she took the time to mention the hardships of settling in the region, and the fact that the landscape was radically different. A fun fact to prove that point was that one of the Shingle House’s claims to fame was that its lumber supposedly only came from a single tree, as before European settlement the area was covered with primordial forest. 

4 Leave a comment on paragraph 4 0 After finishing up at the Shingle House, we moved on to the local tavern, a stone Dutch Colonial building. From here the tour guide explained the the tavern came about as the town developed and became connected with other established communities. As time went on the town would grow to sustain a larger population, and the tavern suited the needs as both a tavern and a general store (according to the guide, it would also eventually host George and Martha Washington for a night.) From there on, our group moved on to the home of a well-to-do family from the turn of the 19th Century, a Methodist church built ten years before the outbreak of the Civil War, and finally the old town hall from the 1880s. At each stop the guide presented the site in relation to the rest of the town, and showed us how each one represented a step in the evolution of the town. 

5 Leave a comment on paragraph 5 0 I didn’t realize it at the time, but this tour had a long-lasting impact on me. While the historic buildings were each fascinating on their own, when put into the context of the rest of the community they really represented so much more. All together, the combined history of these buildings narrated a story on the vibrant and evolving nature of the town. As time would go on, I began to understand that this type of thinking really applied to history on a much larger scale. Whether I was in class reviewing the nature of the civil war, or on the acts of espionage and diplomacy that took place in the decades before the Iranian Revolution, I still had the same question in mind; How did all these smaller stories come together to form a larger picture? Even after relocating to Long Island for school, I remained fascinated by the dynamic nature of history. Eventually, this fascination would push me into deciding to pursue my Masters in History. As much as I love studying the subject matter, I’ve also realized that I heavily enjoy discussing it as well! Considering that I now work at a museum, this is a great trait to have when putting the site and collection into the larger context of history. Who knows, maybe if things go well I’ll be able to leave the same impact on someone that the tour guide had on me!


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