Sunday, December 29, 2013

Directed Reading: Living History Museums

Directed Reading: Living History Museums

I did this directed reading as part of my minor/certificate in Museum Studies. I was studying how a museum was run along with the various aspects of a living history museum including theory, reasoning, and a few of the nuts and bolts like clothing and cooking.

1. A Living History Reader by Jay Anderson
This is a fantastic resource, unfortunately the only volume of its kind with no recent updates, but still very valid today just the same (Published 1991). This book is a collection of articles written by various people in the living history field organized under a selection of topics:

Introduction - Living History
Experimental Programs
Afterword - Serious Play

Just as a side note, this book is a serious commitment to read. The layout is in double-columns. Whew! It took me awhile to work my way through it, but it was so fascinating. It was definitely worth the time commitment.

2. Confederates in the Attic by Tony Horwitz
This book was the one book required for me to read selected by my professor. I thought this selection was a little weird until I read it and it made total sense. This book is a memoir of the author's journey into the why of Civil War reenacting. He brings out fantastic concepts and arguments and digs deep into the psyche of reenactors and the people of the American south who still talk about The War like it happened yesterday. The concepts presented in this book parallel a lot of the why of living history museums. This was a psychologically moving book; it would be a bit much to call it "life changing", but still some pretty awesome stuff.
This book does have some language and a few crude passages. (I always like to know stuff like that myself, so I try and pass it on.)

3. Starting Right: A Basic Guide to Museum Planning by Gerald George & Cindy Sherrell-Leo
I actually enjoyed reading this book. I found had a straight-forward simple approach to starting a museum. You're probably thinking, "I don't ever have plans of starting a museum", but I've always felt that if I moved to a tiny town with a rich history and no museum I would like to start a tiny one to preserve their heritage and it would be good to know the basics of starting and caring for a museum the right way! (It's a pipe dream, I know, but it's still cool, right?)

4. What Clothes Reveal by Linda Baumgarten
This book was totally amazing! The author focuses primarily on Revolutionary War-era clothing, but she gets into the nitty gritty details of how they reused fabric as much as they could, where the cloth came from, and who wore what and why, etc. My favorite tidbit picked up from this book explained why Yankee Doodle stuck a feather in his hat and called it "Macaroni"! The book is filled with delicious color photos and is a great look at original clothing.

5. Recipes from America's Restored Villages by Jean Anderson
(This one is a little harder to find in the 1987 edition, but there are more copies available of the 1975 edition.)

This book is a fabulous collection of recipes from selected living history museums/restored villages throughout the United States. It's by no means comprehensive, but it's a great selection to whet the appetite! I have so many bookmarks in mine of recipes I want to try, it's ridiculous. I'm dying to try the "Hoosier Biscuits" from Conner Prairie (I used to work there and I'm a Hoosier, so go figure!), and "Mary Todd Lincoln's White Almond Cake" from Lincoln's New Salem, Illinois. Almond cake - mmmmmm!

Each village has a brief summary of its history. What a great way to learn about our country's restored villages, try some historical recipes, and find some new destinations for future road trips! After all, it's all research, right?

6. Time Machines: The World of Living History by Jay Anderson
I really enjoyed reading this book written by my professor. As it's easier, I'll just post my review as I published it at Amazon:
Jay Anderson provides a very valuable look into the world of living history, museums, and reenacting by analyzing the different aspects of living history and how and why it is used. He does this by breaking the study into three different parts:

1. Memory Machines: Living History Museums
2. Time Bandits: Living History as Research (experimental history)
3. Doin' the Time Warp: Living History as Play

Anyone who is a student of Museum Studies and/or living history must read this book! Anderson is known as "the Father of Living History", being a pioneer in the field, and is very qualified in what he has to say. His writing is intimate, weaving in his own experiences with living history, thus making the book more personal, insightful, and enjoyable to read.

The only negative thing I'd have to say is that there isn't a more recent, updated edition, as these hobbies, museums, and such have evolved so much since 1986 when this book was published.

I found this to be one of my most valuable reads in this study. There are some really fascinating concepts presented about living history. I'd have to say the section on experimental history was my favorite. :-)

7. Intro to Museum Work by G. Ellis Burcaw
This book is a good book to follow Starting Right as mentioned above. It is more in-depth and includes end-of-chapter exercises. It is more of a dry read and seems to focus the most on art museums, which isn't always helpful. I think it's still a valuable book, especially if you want to work in the museum field or to just understand how (successful) museums are run. Believe me, I've been to a few museums that could have benefited from reading this book!

That's the end of my list, but here are a few more titles that were not apart of my directed reading, but are on my to-read list:

The Living History Sourcebook by Jay Anderson (probably very out of date, but still worth a look)

Past Into Present: Effective Techniques for First-Person Historical Interpretation by Stacy Flora Roth (I've got major mixed feelings about this one, since my personal opinion of first-person interpretation is very low. I'm still a bit curious though...)

The Interpreter's Training Manual for Museums by Mary Kay Cunningham. (See above! However, if a museum is going to do any form of interpretation, this book looks like it would be a good resource. No interpretation is better than bad interpretation, in my humble opinion.)

America's Kitchens by Nancy Carlisle (This book looks so fascinating and discusses the histories of various types of American kitchens and the introduction of various technological advances - COOL!)

Travels Into Our Past: America's Living History Museums and Historical Sites by Wayne P. Anderson & Carla Lee Anderson (This was just published in 2013! So bonus for being so new. It looks to be a fascinating look at the history of our country's cherished historical sites along with tales of memorable experiences at 50 of the sites by the authors.)

The New History in An Old Museum: Creating the Past at Colonial Williamsburg by Richard Handler & Eric Gable. (Just read the book description - whoa! This one looks really interesting - not only a history of the museum, but it's evolution and balancing act in today's highly commercialized world.)

Old Clothes: But All I Wanted To Do Was Wear Old Clothes and Go Back to the Past by Richard N. Pawling. (This looks like an interesting look at how living history is far more complicated than just wearing old clothes and "going back in time". AMEN to that! Unfortunately, the author seems to totally be in favor of first person interpretation, however I would like to read what he says about the other things mentioned in his book.)

Seeking the Historical Cook: Exploring Eighteenth-Century Southern Foodways by Kay K. Moss. (This book is perfect for the "rocking chair historian". It teaches you about 18th century ways of cooking, how to decipher old receipts, and is considered "a practical guide to historical techniques" all adapted for a modern kitchen. Interesting!)

Okay, this list could go on and on, so I'll stop here! Happy reading!

Become a "Rocking Chair Historian!"

Continuing in the education vein, I had planned on posting a picture of a book that I had read in college:
Recipes From America's Restored Villages by Jean Anderson
I normally enjoy reading cookbooks, but it got me thinking of why I really read it in the first place - it was for a 2 credit directed reading with one of my professors, Jay Anderson (I've heard he's considered the "father of living history" and is quite the pioneer!). I wanted to study about living history museums and so he required me to read one book that he suggested and then I could choose 6 other books myself, the above book was one of them.

As I was trucking along in this vein of thought, it occurred to me that there are a lot of others out there, moms especially, who aren't able to go to school at this stage in their life like me, but who still really enjoy studying history. I realized that I could create some "directed readings" for you readers out there along different historical topics of my particular interest.

If you have a particular history passion, I'd love to get a list from you of books you'd recommend for a directed reading for others to read. The only requirements are that the books chosen need to be easy to obtain through the local library or that it be available for purchase online for a reasonable sum. (No $50 books here! We're not really in school after all.) Also, the books should be of good reading quality, be well-researched, and that they are mostly non-fiction. A brief description of the book and why you liked it for that particular study would be great too.

I know I don't have that many readers, but if you even have friends who are history fans and love reading, send along this post!

Lastly, why do I use the newly-minted term "rocking chair historian"? Well, the term "armchair historian" really makes reference to a retired man sittin' in his well-worn armchair turning pages of a dusty book on Revolutionary War battle strategy, doesn't it? Since I'm aiming for the audience of women and stay-at-home-moms for this project I thought it would be fun to have a more appropriate term. I love rocking our kids in our rocking chair, so why not?

Anyway, look for the new tab at the top titled "Directed Readings".

Have a wonderful and Happy New Year!

Tuesday, December 10, 2013


Lately I've been thinking a lot about my education. I've always loved school and learning, but ever since graduating from college I've kept my learning to more domestic topics - food preserving, keeping a more organized home, homeschooling, sewing, nifty ways of getting all my cleaning done, healthy eating, expanding my cooking repertoire, etc.

After awhile though, my love of book learning and history tugs at my heart and I go back to thinking about going for a master's degree. I'd really like to do research and write articles, scholarly papers, and books and in general contribute to the field of my interest - namely food rationing during the World Wars. Unfortunately they don't take you seriously in the History field unless you've got a master's degree. I've even made it a matter of prayer and I keep feeling like I need to prepare myself, i.e. reading, studying, and making notes. The great thing is this kind of studying is free, it just takes time.

I do have down time here and there, but I usually waste it in the name of "relaxing" which more often than not takes the form of watching Korean dramas (LOVE). So, in other words, not a great use of my time, however entertaining. I want to use most of my time productively at least, which means reading the huge stack of books on war food rationing that I already own. And to be completely honest - I haven't read most of them. *GASP* It's horrible I know! To buy books and not read them, but, oh, is it comforting just knowing you have them! lol It's the eternal twisted fate of people who love old books and have one too many hobbies I guess...

Anyway, I had the idea to just act like I am studying for school. Have a list of all my books/magazines and slowly read through them, taking notes. Then as I broaden my knowledge base, I'll know where I'd like to focus my studies even more and THEN... I can make a few visits to the National Archives. *drool*. One reason I was so stoked to move out here to Maryland was that I would be one hour away from the archives - the home to pretty much everything I could ever dream of wanting to look at about rationing and propaganda... *geeky squeal* But to go do research there I need to know exactly what I want to look at which is not easy to narrow down, let me tell you!

A huge motivation for all of this is actually because of a friend of mine. She has the most incredible in-depth understanding of the WWII time period because she's an avid reader and lover of history. She would take a 1943 issue of Reader's Digest with her to the park to read while her kids played, she'd flip through a 1941 issue of McCall's Women's Magazine like it had just come to her mailbox that week, and read books published then and listen to music of the time. It's an adventure she went on with her kids (whom she homeschooled) until they actually laughed at the jokes about rationing (because they GOT it!) while listening to original radio broadcasts on CD. My admiration for her is just huge. I realized that I want to be just like that - to be at the point where I am that familiar and intimate with the time period that I feel absolutely comfortable talking and writing about it. Our conversations about WWII are so fun and refreshing, but also intimidating because I feel like I don't know anything even though I've loved reading about it since I was a teenager!

Something like this takes time, however, and I have a long way to go. I also know that if I don't start doing something about it now, 10 years down the road when I am finally in a position to pursue a master's degree, I know I will regret all of that wasted time.

So, I'm going to start one book, one magazine at a time and see where it takes me!

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Merry Christmas!

I'm sorry it's been very quiet around here lately. My husband has been overseas for a few months and will be home in a few short days. Hooray! It's amazing how much work (and recuperating!) it takes for one person to run a household, do homeschooling with two kids, teach at church, run errands, fit in some girl time, etc. Whew! It doesn't leave much time for blogging.

However, we've survived the long separation and I'll be glad for things to settle back down and have my sweet husband home.

With the coming holiday, I thought it would be fun to post a few WWII Christmas cards I found here and there online.

This one is a lot of fun!

Uuuhh.... I'm not quite sure what to think about this one...

This one is bizarrely peaceful and ominous at the same time. 

Cute! I wonder what the cut out words were.

This one is fun. I think it transcends time, don't you think? :-)
I love the look on the face of the kid on the right.

I like this one a lot. It's a great snapshot of a moment with the familiar carol on the side.

Have a wonderful Christmas!