Living History: Jamestown Settlement

P1040199Travel destinations have evolved over the past century.  Pilgrimages go back centuries to destinations, usually with religious significance, such as Jerusalem, Mecca, and Santiago.  Over the past half century, curators of places of history have added to security guards and maintenance crews, historical interpreters.  The places have P1040165gone from destinations to experiences.  Some interpreters engage in crafts, trades, and tasks from a specific era.  Other interact with viewers to explain how people lived at that time.  Another method is for the interpreters to portray events through scripted or improvised scenes to those touring.  All of these fill out the concept of Living History.  An excellent location for living history of the colonial period of the USA is the historical Triangle of Yorktown, Williamsburg, and Jamestown Settlement.  These cover from the 17th through the 18th century.

P1040203We have brought Linda’s family to the Historic Triangle for several days.  We began our exploration at the Jamestown Settlement.  This is a reproduction of the life in and near the settlement, placed geographically just up the James River from the Historical Jamestown archeological site.  The Jamestown Settlement is divided DSCF7109into the museum displays, a Powhattan Village, the Ships, and James Fort.  This is actually our third visit to the museum since it opened ten or so years ago.  Each time, we have seen more structures being worked on, by hand, using the tools and methods available to the personnel of the Virginia Company.

The living historians wear period clothing and engage in period tasks.  Some events may be mostly demonstration, but they will also engage visitors in trying their hand at tasks.  Most are passionate and knowledgable about their post.  Ask a few questions and enjoy responses as long as you have to chat.  While on one of the ships, I went down below as the P1040212group before returned to deck.  I was alone with the interpreter for several minutes.  Rather than the routine spiel, I asked him about the purpose of the cannon on a merchant ship.  He provided a better understanding of our merchant and naval vessels were constructed and used 400 years ago, and how they would easily be DSCF7166used for either transporting good, raiding other nations colonies, or engaging in sea battles.

To add another element of history for our nephew and niece, we happen to have visited the Muscarella Art Museum at the College of William and Mary.  They had a gallery of sketches by Michelangelo.  Several of these were architectural drawings for buildings in Florence and P1040235Rome, completed in the 16th century.  So, while sitting at a table in the James Fort reproduction, looking up at hand-hewn beams, fastened with wooden pegs, we considered what Michelangelo had drafted one hundred years before the settlers erected this style of shelter.

About hermitsdoor

Up here in the mountains, we have a saying, "You can't get there from here", which really means "We wouldn't go the trouble to do that". Another concept is that "If you don't know, we ain't telling." For the rest, you'll have to read between the lines.
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7 Responses to Living History: Jamestown Settlement

  1. Barneysday says:

    Excellent post. We’ve visited some of the museums in VA. in the past, but not Jamestown. Sounds very interesting. The oldest part of the house I grew up in in Mass. had construction consisting of beams and pegs, no nails used. Says how old that part was. Also all rough hewn wood structure.

    I like that history is 500 years old on the east coast, and 200 or less on the west coast. Quite a change.

    • hermitsdoor says:

      The Jamestown Settlement is relatively new… opening, maybe, about 10 years ago. As they make more refined archeological studies at the historic fort site, they add to the living history museum area.

  2. ‘Living History Museums’ – It’s as close to being there as we’ll get, isn’t it? I must confess that I’m not generally a museum person, but the living ones, like your Jamestown, are wonderful. Nice adventure for your niece and nephew (and you two, also!)

    • hermitsdoor says:

      Living history is relative… questions your detective should ask: Who is writing (or re-writing) the history? What perspective (agenda/biases) do they start with? Who is funding the program? How authentic do you need to present authetic history? For instance, most of the interpreters, even in the Pahwattan Village were of European descent, not actually Native Americans. They appeared to be knowledgeable, curtious, and well intended. But, in some substle way might the visual image of fair skinned people leave distorted memories? Again, a woman greeted us and invited us to ask questions. She was clothed in a manner that met our standards of bodily covering, but not those preserved in drawings from the time period. A woman, also, would not approach strangers in such a manner 400 years ago. Equality might be on our agenda, but it would not have been theirs. Is this accurate living history? I do not want to malign something that I value with picky criticism, but we must be aware that we are presenting our version of living history, which may say more about our values than those of the time.

  3. Pingback: We Americans have a History fo Eating our Own | Unsettled Christianity

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