Over the course of my last few blog postings, I've been discussing both the concept of interpretation and the ways to protect our resources for future interpretation. For this posting I'd like to continue with this train of thought and discuss how a few of our interpreters literally bring history to life. By this, I'm referring to our living history interpretive programs.
Living history programs are fairly
simple at first glance, but they are very effective interpretive tools. Essentially,
a living history person will dress up in period costume and portray a
historical figure, such as Lydia Leister, and conduct an interpretive program
from that historical figures first person perspective. Leister was a widow who
owned a small farm that was commandeered by General George Gordon Meade during
the Battle of Gettysburg. Leister and her six children found shelter with
family along the Baltimore Pike.
The Leister Farm
When she returned to the farm after the
conclusion of the battle, she found artillery damage to the house and fences, and
much of her furniture scattered in the yard. Moreover, her livestock had been
driven off in the battle and her food stores were depleted by Meade's staff.
Dead soldiers, horses, and mules still littered the yard. Leister had to assess
the damage and figure out how to recoup at least some of her losses to keep supporting
her children. According to the blog Civil War Women, she burned the bones of
the dead horses and sold the ash as fertilizer. Done correctly, a living
history program can really make an impact on a visitor. In this case, it can
recreate the fear, anguish, and perseverance of Leister during the battle. This
basically is what interpretation is all about: making a significant, even
emotional, impact on our visitor. When working the information desk at
Gettysburg, I've often had visitors come up and comment on how much they love
our living history programs.
The Leister Farm today and monument commemorating
Another way in which living history programs are conducted is through living history demonstrations that are conducted every weekend during the summer months at the park. These demonstrations are small-scale reenactments conducted by small groups of living historians sanctioned by the National Park Service. These living historians go out on the battlefield, and depending on what unit that they are representing, will march, drill, fire their muskets, or even fire a period cannon! Once again, visitors really appear to enjoy these demonstrations. Many people coming into Gettysburg expect to see a reenactment or something along those lines, and these programs are the closest thing that we have to battle reenactments. Even these small-scale demonstrations teach our visitors much about how soldiers maneuvered and behaved in drill and battle. Either way, living history provides a fun and immersive way for visitors to learn and interpret the actions and experiences of soldiers and civilians on the battlefield