History has a bad reputation. It is perceived as memorizing dates, dead rich guys, and dusty artifacts under glass. It is not dynamic and is seen as having nothing to do with our lives.
Yet that is very far from the truth. History is exciting, full of adventure, romance, tragedy, and comedy. When you visit any one of the Park Authority’s historic sites, you’ll discover all the excitement in history.
One way to look at history is that it is mystery. Historians and archaeologists are detectives trying to piece together what happened from clues. Our evidence is what people left behind. Sometimes our clues are documents, letters, diaries, and other written accounts. Other clues are objects like pieces of pottery, tools, trash, and even entire houses. None of these clues tells the entire story. What we know of the past we know by piecing all these little clues together. Yet we will never have enough clues to get a perfect picture, so sometimes we have to make educated guesses.
You can look at history like a jigsaw puzzle, one of those giant 32,000 piece 3-D affairs. Some of the puzzle pieces are still in the box, other pieces are under the bed or between the couch cushions, a few may be still at the store, and some may be missing altogether. Once we have collected as many of the pieces as we can find, we have to figure out how they all fit together. We may find some more pieces in the future to give us a more complete puzzle, but many of the puzzle pieces will always be missing.
Despite this, historians and archaeologists do what they do because solving that mystery or putting that puzzle together helps us all understand where we came from, where we are, and (in part) where we’re going. History is so important because it is who we are, and it connects us to a larger story. It is the story of us, and you, and me, and them. History roots us to place, and that is particularly important in a region like ours.
Examine history through your eyes
It is amazing to ask visitors to consider how the lives of their ancestors differed from the lives we live. Our historic interpreters engage visitors by asking them to help solve the mystery or put the puzzle together. We ask visitors to:
- Consider how their lives would change if they lived in a different time
- Examine the clues in a historic house to uncover how the family lived and built their home
- Fire a bow and arrow and think about what the Powhatan ate, what games they played, and how they farmed
- Make biscuits in a colonial kitchen
- Solve (or piece together) how our ancestors do the things we do
There are ways we make history come alive and make it personal. These questions challenge kids and adults. They make history fun.
Come to a park historic site, or look around your home. What mysteries and puzzles can you uncover around you? What mysteries are you leaving behind for future historians?
Written by Geoffrey Cohrs, historic interpreter and site coordinator, Huntley Meadows Park