History is Fun…No Really!

July 25, 2013
by piedfam

I have a confession to make. History was never really “my thing” growing up. Yet today, I’m the director of a small history museum. So what happened? Well, I finally found my niche in history and, with a little bit of planning, you can, too. Read on to find a history pastime that your whole family will enjoy!

If Your Family Loves:
The performing arts and making new friends

You Should Try:
Attending or participating in a re-enactment

Why You’ll Like It:
The spectacle of a battlefield recreation with its booming cannons and clashing cavalry charges can truly be breathtaking. Many re-enactments include a “living history village” where spectators can interact with the men and women who bring history to life while picking up information about how everyday people lived during that era. Another staple of most re-enactments is demonstrations including topics such as early photography, historic fashions, medical practices and burial traditions.

If you enjoy watching re-enactments, you might even want to try your hand at participating. Getting started need not be very difficult or expensive. Many re-enactors have extra clothing (not to mention invaluable tips) that they’re willing to lend to prospective recruits. A great opportunity to try out re-enacting is coming up September 28, 2013 during the Town of Warrenton’s Heritage Day celebrations.

If Your Family Loves:
Social networking, talking and listening

You Should Try:
Collecting oral histories

Why You’ll Like It:
Gathering around the table for a chat with a neighbor, friend or relative was the original form of social networking! Collecting oral histories sounds like a daunting task, but anyone who enjoys a good conversation already has what it takes to be an oral historian. All you need to make it official is an audio recorder to capture the stories you are told. Start by sitting down with your parents or grandparents and asking them about their lives. Not only will you get to record all those stories that are rolled out every year during Thanksgiving dinner, but I guarantee you will hear a tale or two that you have never heard before.

Once you have preserved your own family history, you might consider taking part in the Library of Congress’ Veteran’s History Project (www.loc.gov/vets). The VHP relies on volunteers to collect oral histories from the men and women who served our country in the armed forces. When completed and sent back to the Library of Congress, your veteran’s memories are added to the library’s ever-expanding VHP database and will become available to researchers all over the world.

If Your Family Loves:
Peaceful settings, the macabre, or The Walking Dead

You Should Try:
Taking a stroll through a cemetery

Why You’ll Like It:
The concept of visiting a cemetery as a way to explore history might seem a little odd, but cemeteries are a reflection of the values and traditions of the community from which they spring. Each tombstone is like a little pocket of history hidden in plain sight, and a stroll through a cemetery can provide information about military involvement, mortality rates, occupations, hobbies and so much more.

If you are looking for more involvement, you could try volunteering with your local historical society to clean and document cemeteries in your area. One such group, the Fauquier Historical Society, is currently working with high school students to map the WarrentonCemetery so that genealogists are better able to locate their ancestors.

If Your Family Loves:
Reading and exploring new places

You Should Try:
Visiting your local museum

Why You’ll Like It:
Museums are where my love for history came from. People are often indifferent to the sweeping motions of history, but if you can tell them a good story, you have got them hooked. Museums are some of the best places to discover great stories. Through displays of period artifacts, most museums do an amazing job of presenting little slices of everyday life from years gone by. Bonus points if you visit a historic house museum where you will actually get to walk through the museum’s most important artifact – the house itself.

Summer is the perfect time to breathe life into your inner history buff. All you need to do is try a few new activities. With a little trial and error, you’re sure to find the perfect fit for your family!

Frances Allshouse is the director of the Fauquier Historical Society’s Old Jail Museum in Warrenton, VA. She holds a bachelor’s of science in Biology and Historic Preservation from the University of Mary Washington.

 

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