More Living History, Living Research

From Susan/Miranda:

I loved Loretta’s recent entry on visiting Old Sturbridge Village. I’m a great believer in the value of researching through living history museums and restorations, too, and with Loretta’s blessing, I’m adding my perspective.

Writing historical fiction is like writing fantasy: both create alternative worlds for readers to visit. The bare facts of life in the past are available to anyone with a library or computer, but a skilled fiction writer must use all her senses to bring her story and characters and setting to life. For me, living history museums have helped add an extra element to my writing in ways that no research book alone ever could.

For several years (before I started hanging out in ice rink parking lots), I volunteered as an interpreter at the Colonial Pennsylvania Plantation in Ridley Creek State Park. This is a much more modest living history museum than Sturbridge. It’s a single-family working 18th century farm, complete with the original stone house, as well as outbuildings, animals, kitchen garden, and fields planted with crops. The Plantation is primarily a teaching museum, and a favorite field trip for school groups in the Philadelphia area, with hundreds of children a day visiting during the peak spring season. While it’s a hands-on experience for the kids (trying on replica clothing, tasting food they help gather and prepare, drawing water from the well, and, of course, shrieking with gleeful horror over the privy), the Plantation was strict about keeping everything as accurate as possible.

We interpreters weren’t in character, but we did dress like farmer’s wives of the middling sort from head to toe. Our modern colored hair had to be hidden by linen caps, we wore stays that creaked and thread stockings that never stayed up no matter how tightly the garters were tied. The only jewelry permitted was wedding rings,

Dressed like this, we ran the tours, and worked the farm. While it’s always useful to wear clothing from the past and feel how it sits on the body, it’s another experience entirely to feel how those same clothes perform in action. Petticoat hems get dusty from unpaved streets, and wet and heavy dragging across morning dew. Before zippers and velcro, clothes required buttons, lacing, and straight pins to stay in place, and it took a lonnnnng time to dress each morning. Those neat little ruffled caps were not only the last word in goodwife modesty, but also kept long hair in place (and away from the hazardous open flames of candles and hearths) better than any modern scrunchie. An 18th century farmwife or laundress thought nothing of hoisting oak buckets full of water, each weighing as much as twenty pounds. The whalebone strips (ok, now they’re made of plastic) sewn into stays served nicely as a built-in back-support for heavy lifting, much like a weight-lifter’s belt at the gym.

Our clothes were handsewn from wool or linen, natural, indigenous fibers that were both historically accurate and fire retardant. A wayward spark on a wool or linen petticoat will smolder, while the same spark on cotton or silk will immediately burst into flame. I hadn’t realized how those gauzy imported Indian cotton muslins so popular with Georgian and Regency ladies were one more way to demonstrate proudly that the lady was a Lady, who never worked over an open hearth from fear of catching on fire.

I’ve never written a book set in colonial Pennsylvania, and given the current climate in New York publishing, I don’t see that changing any time soon. But my experience at the Plantation helped make my writing infinitely richer, no matter what my story. I learned details of 18th century life that would apply just as readily to a duchess in London as to Quaker farmer.

I learned that no matter how roaring the fire in the fireplace may be, the heat only extends five feet into the room, and yes, the water in the washstand and the ink on the desk will freeze in the winter. I learned different sounds: the squeak of the horse’s leather harness, the dry crack of a flintlock musket or pistol, the way voices and footsteps echo in rooms with uncarpeted floors and uncurtained windows. I learned that no matter how many wool-stuffed mattresses are piled beneath a featherbed, the rope springs that are at the heart of every bedstead make for creaky, uncomfortable sleep. I learned that a closed-up house heated by firewood is smoky, and that the inhabitants have red-rimmed eyes, perpetual coughs, and a fine grey dusting of soot on their clothes. I learned that, before Febreeze, Life Smelled: from wood smoke, cooking, privies, animals, and people.

And if all this learnin’ makes me another of Loretta’s self-proclaimed history nerds, then I’ll proudly wear the t-shirt.

72 thoughts on “More Living History, Living Research”

  1. Susan/Miranda, what a marvelous evocation of the physical experience of living in the past! You and the plantation clearly benefited mutually from your volunteer work.
    Some of the less pleasant details I learned from growing up on a farm more recently, but you made the other details really vivid. I had never thought about how flammable fabrics were one of those marks of being a lady of leisure. Thanks for the great post!
    Mary Jo, who needs to be reminded of this stuff regularly.

    Reply
  2. Susan/Miranda, what a marvelous evocation of the physical experience of living in the past! You and the plantation clearly benefited mutually from your volunteer work.
    Some of the less pleasant details I learned from growing up on a farm more recently, but you made the other details really vivid. I had never thought about how flammable fabrics were one of those marks of being a lady of leisure. Thanks for the great post!
    Mary Jo, who needs to be reminded of this stuff regularly.

    Reply
  3. Susan/Miranda, what a marvelous evocation of the physical experience of living in the past! You and the plantation clearly benefited mutually from your volunteer work.
    Some of the less pleasant details I learned from growing up on a farm more recently, but you made the other details really vivid. I had never thought about how flammable fabrics were one of those marks of being a lady of leisure. Thanks for the great post!
    Mary Jo, who needs to be reminded of this stuff regularly.

    Reply
  4. Great post. This is exactly the kind of stuff I wish more writers could experience. You’re all making me sad that I’m way out here on the Left Coast where so little 18th century history is celebrated (though we do have a tall ship group that dresses up and plays on the bay; either on their own ship or on the rented Hawaiian Chieftain).
    Don’t you just FEEL different when you get those clothes on? I always do. I love it. It’s almost like getting into character for a play.
    My girlfriends and I are thinking of throwing a STAYS & CORSETS party when RWA rolls into San Francisco in 08. We’ll have nibbles and drinks in our room and invite all the historical writers (and other interested parties) to come over and try on various corsets and stays. I think between us all we can outfit almost anyone from a size 4 to a size 20 in Tudor/Elizabethan, Georgian, Regency and Victorian.
    It’ll be like a Pajama Party with a strange historical bent. *GRIN*

    Reply
  5. Great post. This is exactly the kind of stuff I wish more writers could experience. You’re all making me sad that I’m way out here on the Left Coast where so little 18th century history is celebrated (though we do have a tall ship group that dresses up and plays on the bay; either on their own ship or on the rented Hawaiian Chieftain).
    Don’t you just FEEL different when you get those clothes on? I always do. I love it. It’s almost like getting into character for a play.
    My girlfriends and I are thinking of throwing a STAYS & CORSETS party when RWA rolls into San Francisco in 08. We’ll have nibbles and drinks in our room and invite all the historical writers (and other interested parties) to come over and try on various corsets and stays. I think between us all we can outfit almost anyone from a size 4 to a size 20 in Tudor/Elizabethan, Georgian, Regency and Victorian.
    It’ll be like a Pajama Party with a strange historical bent. *GRIN*

    Reply
  6. Great post. This is exactly the kind of stuff I wish more writers could experience. You’re all making me sad that I’m way out here on the Left Coast where so little 18th century history is celebrated (though we do have a tall ship group that dresses up and plays on the bay; either on their own ship or on the rented Hawaiian Chieftain).
    Don’t you just FEEL different when you get those clothes on? I always do. I love it. It’s almost like getting into character for a play.
    My girlfriends and I are thinking of throwing a STAYS & CORSETS party when RWA rolls into San Francisco in 08. We’ll have nibbles and drinks in our room and invite all the historical writers (and other interested parties) to come over and try on various corsets and stays. I think between us all we can outfit almost anyone from a size 4 to a size 20 in Tudor/Elizabethan, Georgian, Regency and Victorian.
    It’ll be like a Pajama Party with a strange historical bent. *GRIN*

    Reply
  7. Tonda,
    That sounds like SO MUCH fun!! I hope you do do that, and I end up going to RWA 2008.
    I love living history museums and think it would be so cool to volunteer at one. I’ll add that to my list of things to do before I die.
    -Michelle

    Reply
  8. Tonda,
    That sounds like SO MUCH fun!! I hope you do do that, and I end up going to RWA 2008.
    I love living history museums and think it would be so cool to volunteer at one. I’ll add that to my list of things to do before I die.
    -Michelle

    Reply
  9. Tonda,
    That sounds like SO MUCH fun!! I hope you do do that, and I end up going to RWA 2008.
    I love living history museums and think it would be so cool to volunteer at one. I’ll add that to my list of things to do before I die.
    -Michelle

    Reply
  10. Mary Jo & Nina —
    I really enjoyed volunteering at the Plantation, so I’m glad that came through.
    I particularly liked the schoolgroups. The kids were always amazingly interested, especially the ones from Philadelphia. MJP, you know first-hand that there is little truly romantic about life on a farm, but to these city kids (who could probably run circles around me in regards to street-smarts) everything was a fascinating mystery to be solved. You’d ask them questions like what comes from a pig, and they hadn’t a clue (though there’d always be some wisenhiemer who’s answer “eggs”).
    My favorite all-time kid question: “Is that fire, like, hot?”
    Susan/Miranda

    Reply
  11. Mary Jo & Nina —
    I really enjoyed volunteering at the Plantation, so I’m glad that came through.
    I particularly liked the schoolgroups. The kids were always amazingly interested, especially the ones from Philadelphia. MJP, you know first-hand that there is little truly romantic about life on a farm, but to these city kids (who could probably run circles around me in regards to street-smarts) everything was a fascinating mystery to be solved. You’d ask them questions like what comes from a pig, and they hadn’t a clue (though there’d always be some wisenhiemer who’s answer “eggs”).
    My favorite all-time kid question: “Is that fire, like, hot?”
    Susan/Miranda

    Reply
  12. Mary Jo & Nina —
    I really enjoyed volunteering at the Plantation, so I’m glad that came through.
    I particularly liked the schoolgroups. The kids were always amazingly interested, especially the ones from Philadelphia. MJP, you know first-hand that there is little truly romantic about life on a farm, but to these city kids (who could probably run circles around me in regards to street-smarts) everything was a fascinating mystery to be solved. You’d ask them questions like what comes from a pig, and they hadn’t a clue (though there’d always be some wisenhiemer who’s answer “eggs”).
    My favorite all-time kid question: “Is that fire, like, hot?”
    Susan/Miranda

    Reply
  13. Susan/Miranda, what a fabulous post! You really captured the experience–but then, you lived it, and made me want to live it, too. Your living history museum may not have sprawled as far as OSV, but that allows it to explore the life of the time in greater depth. I loved the information about the different fabrics and the experience of wearing those clothes and carrying on one’s workday. What valuable insights to bring to one’s work!

    Reply
  14. Susan/Miranda, what a fabulous post! You really captured the experience–but then, you lived it, and made me want to live it, too. Your living history museum may not have sprawled as far as OSV, but that allows it to explore the life of the time in greater depth. I loved the information about the different fabrics and the experience of wearing those clothes and carrying on one’s workday. What valuable insights to bring to one’s work!

    Reply
  15. Susan/Miranda, what a fabulous post! You really captured the experience–but then, you lived it, and made me want to live it, too. Your living history museum may not have sprawled as far as OSV, but that allows it to explore the life of the time in greater depth. I loved the information about the different fabrics and the experience of wearing those clothes and carrying on one’s workday. What valuable insights to bring to one’s work!

    Reply
  16. From Sherrie:
    Susan Miranda, what a superior post! You really caught the essence of what it was like to actually live the life of a Colonial. So much of the history just comes alive when you are in costume and working with the implements of the era, not to mention eating the food, doing the chores, farming the animals and crops.
    As I child, I remember a field trip my school class took to a local dairy. We got to see how they made cottage cheese, how they processed milk, where the cows were housed, and we even got to see the bull.
    Something about the bull struck me as odd. He was sitting like a dog sits, with his butt on the ground, supporting himself with his front legs. He looked very comfortable, but … odd. I found out later why it struck me odd: when bovines rise, they get on their front knees and their butt goes up first, then they rise from their knees to a standing position. When they lie down, they drop to their knees first. Because they lie down and rise knees-first, cows can’t “sit.” Or they shouldn’t. Somebody forgot to tell the bull.
    A horse, OTOH, *can* sit. Like a cow, they go down on their knees first, and then sort of topple over. But when a horse rises, he goes front end first (ending up in a temporary sitting position) and then he uses his heavy head and neck as a counter-weight to help pull him to his feet, thrusting head and neck forward in a sort of heave to a standing position.
    These are the types of things people usually don’t get from a research book, which is why living history farms are so valuable.
    Great post, Susan Miranda. It brought back fond memories of my childhood field trips.
    Sherrie Holmes
    http//www.holmesedit.com

    Reply
  17. From Sherrie:
    Susan Miranda, what a superior post! You really caught the essence of what it was like to actually live the life of a Colonial. So much of the history just comes alive when you are in costume and working with the implements of the era, not to mention eating the food, doing the chores, farming the animals and crops.
    As I child, I remember a field trip my school class took to a local dairy. We got to see how they made cottage cheese, how they processed milk, where the cows were housed, and we even got to see the bull.
    Something about the bull struck me as odd. He was sitting like a dog sits, with his butt on the ground, supporting himself with his front legs. He looked very comfortable, but … odd. I found out later why it struck me odd: when bovines rise, they get on their front knees and their butt goes up first, then they rise from their knees to a standing position. When they lie down, they drop to their knees first. Because they lie down and rise knees-first, cows can’t “sit.” Or they shouldn’t. Somebody forgot to tell the bull.
    A horse, OTOH, *can* sit. Like a cow, they go down on their knees first, and then sort of topple over. But when a horse rises, he goes front end first (ending up in a temporary sitting position) and then he uses his heavy head and neck as a counter-weight to help pull him to his feet, thrusting head and neck forward in a sort of heave to a standing position.
    These are the types of things people usually don’t get from a research book, which is why living history farms are so valuable.
    Great post, Susan Miranda. It brought back fond memories of my childhood field trips.
    Sherrie Holmes
    http//www.holmesedit.com

    Reply
  18. From Sherrie:
    Susan Miranda, what a superior post! You really caught the essence of what it was like to actually live the life of a Colonial. So much of the history just comes alive when you are in costume and working with the implements of the era, not to mention eating the food, doing the chores, farming the animals and crops.
    As I child, I remember a field trip my school class took to a local dairy. We got to see how they made cottage cheese, how they processed milk, where the cows were housed, and we even got to see the bull.
    Something about the bull struck me as odd. He was sitting like a dog sits, with his butt on the ground, supporting himself with his front legs. He looked very comfortable, but … odd. I found out later why it struck me odd: when bovines rise, they get on their front knees and their butt goes up first, then they rise from their knees to a standing position. When they lie down, they drop to their knees first. Because they lie down and rise knees-first, cows can’t “sit.” Or they shouldn’t. Somebody forgot to tell the bull.
    A horse, OTOH, *can* sit. Like a cow, they go down on their knees first, and then sort of topple over. But when a horse rises, he goes front end first (ending up in a temporary sitting position) and then he uses his heavy head and neck as a counter-weight to help pull him to his feet, thrusting head and neck forward in a sort of heave to a standing position.
    These are the types of things people usually don’t get from a research book, which is why living history farms are so valuable.
    Great post, Susan Miranda. It brought back fond memories of my childhood field trips.
    Sherrie Holmes
    http//www.holmesedit.com

    Reply
  19. I’m with you on the kid thing. They can say and think the oddest of things.
    While riding the end of a hack line one sweltering summer afternoon, I had a teen turn around and loudly ask, “We aren’t going in there are we?” I looked at him, his eyes wide with fear, white nylon doo rag flicking with the hot breeze, gang tats curling up his naked arms. “Sure we are,” I said, wondering what he was expecting out of a trail ride. “Oh, no, you’re not gett’n me in there. No @!$%@ way. Uh-uh. I don’t do no @#%! woods thing,” he proclaimed, pulling wildly at the reigns. Sensing, things were about to unravel on the last ride of the day, I sidled up along side him. “How long do you think I would last on your neighborhood streets?” I asked, laying a hand on his muscle-bound shoulder. The reins stilled just as I needed them to and he washed me down with a knowing glance that assured I would be skewered before reaching the corner. “Well, you’re on my street now, and I’ve got your back.” He nodded his head, I pulled in behind him and we walked the trail.
    When we got back to the paddock, I helped him dismount. He invited me to visit his street sometime for a little fun and I sent him off with a tip from my dusty cowboy. Watching him schlep through the gate and join up with a group of his mates, I realized none of the others were on the ride. “It wasn’t no big thing,” he proclaimed loudly, turning around to point at me. “It was just a bunch of @#!% trees.”
    After that, I realized how much I take large stands of trees for granted. The way their leaves bluster in the wind, sway hard with a pelting rain or glint silver in the bright sunlight. I would be terrified to walk his Harlem streets just as he was terrified to walk my trail. But we both are better for the effort. I don’t take trees for granted anymore and he has a wild story to tell.
    There’s a lot to be said for working in living history.
    [Expletives have been removed to ensure reader enjoyment]

    Reply
  20. I’m with you on the kid thing. They can say and think the oddest of things.
    While riding the end of a hack line one sweltering summer afternoon, I had a teen turn around and loudly ask, “We aren’t going in there are we?” I looked at him, his eyes wide with fear, white nylon doo rag flicking with the hot breeze, gang tats curling up his naked arms. “Sure we are,” I said, wondering what he was expecting out of a trail ride. “Oh, no, you’re not gett’n me in there. No @!$%@ way. Uh-uh. I don’t do no @#%! woods thing,” he proclaimed, pulling wildly at the reigns. Sensing, things were about to unravel on the last ride of the day, I sidled up along side him. “How long do you think I would last on your neighborhood streets?” I asked, laying a hand on his muscle-bound shoulder. The reins stilled just as I needed them to and he washed me down with a knowing glance that assured I would be skewered before reaching the corner. “Well, you’re on my street now, and I’ve got your back.” He nodded his head, I pulled in behind him and we walked the trail.
    When we got back to the paddock, I helped him dismount. He invited me to visit his street sometime for a little fun and I sent him off with a tip from my dusty cowboy. Watching him schlep through the gate and join up with a group of his mates, I realized none of the others were on the ride. “It wasn’t no big thing,” he proclaimed loudly, turning around to point at me. “It was just a bunch of @#!% trees.”
    After that, I realized how much I take large stands of trees for granted. The way their leaves bluster in the wind, sway hard with a pelting rain or glint silver in the bright sunlight. I would be terrified to walk his Harlem streets just as he was terrified to walk my trail. But we both are better for the effort. I don’t take trees for granted anymore and he has a wild story to tell.
    There’s a lot to be said for working in living history.
    [Expletives have been removed to ensure reader enjoyment]

    Reply
  21. I’m with you on the kid thing. They can say and think the oddest of things.
    While riding the end of a hack line one sweltering summer afternoon, I had a teen turn around and loudly ask, “We aren’t going in there are we?” I looked at him, his eyes wide with fear, white nylon doo rag flicking with the hot breeze, gang tats curling up his naked arms. “Sure we are,” I said, wondering what he was expecting out of a trail ride. “Oh, no, you’re not gett’n me in there. No @!$%@ way. Uh-uh. I don’t do no @#%! woods thing,” he proclaimed, pulling wildly at the reigns. Sensing, things were about to unravel on the last ride of the day, I sidled up along side him. “How long do you think I would last on your neighborhood streets?” I asked, laying a hand on his muscle-bound shoulder. The reins stilled just as I needed them to and he washed me down with a knowing glance that assured I would be skewered before reaching the corner. “Well, you’re on my street now, and I’ve got your back.” He nodded his head, I pulled in behind him and we walked the trail.
    When we got back to the paddock, I helped him dismount. He invited me to visit his street sometime for a little fun and I sent him off with a tip from my dusty cowboy. Watching him schlep through the gate and join up with a group of his mates, I realized none of the others were on the ride. “It wasn’t no big thing,” he proclaimed loudly, turning around to point at me. “It was just a bunch of @#!% trees.”
    After that, I realized how much I take large stands of trees for granted. The way their leaves bluster in the wind, sway hard with a pelting rain or glint silver in the bright sunlight. I would be terrified to walk his Harlem streets just as he was terrified to walk my trail. But we both are better for the effort. I don’t take trees for granted anymore and he has a wild story to tell.
    There’s a lot to be said for working in living history.
    [Expletives have been removed to ensure reader enjoyment]

    Reply
  22. Nina, that’s an awesome story! And I’m still laughing over “Is that fire, like, HOT?”
    People used to ask us all the time if our food was real when I did living history with an audience. That one always puzzled me. Like we’d sit around a big table in the middle of the afternoon PRETENDING to eat. LOL!
    Best time ever though had to be the woman who walked up to the front of our 16th century military encampment and announced grandly to her two boys (roughly in the 8-10 year old range): “This is how people lived in the time of Jesus. In tents and caves.”
    Jaws dropped all around the camp and the guildmistress went BUSTLING over to the fence, “Oh, no my lady, this is merely our encampment as we journey with the queen. At home in Nuremberg we live in fine houses. Many even have glass windows.”
    “You have houses?”
    “Yes. The queen herself lives in a vast house, which is sometimes called a castle.”
    “So, ya’ll had houses?”
    “Yes. And when our Lord Jesus was born fifteen hundred years ago, it was in a manger, because the inn—which is a large house—was full.”
    At which point the mother shooed her children away from the crazy woman in the big dress and we were all free to breathe again.

    Reply
  23. Nina, that’s an awesome story! And I’m still laughing over “Is that fire, like, HOT?”
    People used to ask us all the time if our food was real when I did living history with an audience. That one always puzzled me. Like we’d sit around a big table in the middle of the afternoon PRETENDING to eat. LOL!
    Best time ever though had to be the woman who walked up to the front of our 16th century military encampment and announced grandly to her two boys (roughly in the 8-10 year old range): “This is how people lived in the time of Jesus. In tents and caves.”
    Jaws dropped all around the camp and the guildmistress went BUSTLING over to the fence, “Oh, no my lady, this is merely our encampment as we journey with the queen. At home in Nuremberg we live in fine houses. Many even have glass windows.”
    “You have houses?”
    “Yes. The queen herself lives in a vast house, which is sometimes called a castle.”
    “So, ya’ll had houses?”
    “Yes. And when our Lord Jesus was born fifteen hundred years ago, it was in a manger, because the inn—which is a large house—was full.”
    At which point the mother shooed her children away from the crazy woman in the big dress and we were all free to breathe again.

    Reply
  24. Nina, that’s an awesome story! And I’m still laughing over “Is that fire, like, HOT?”
    People used to ask us all the time if our food was real when I did living history with an audience. That one always puzzled me. Like we’d sit around a big table in the middle of the afternoon PRETENDING to eat. LOL!
    Best time ever though had to be the woman who walked up to the front of our 16th century military encampment and announced grandly to her two boys (roughly in the 8-10 year old range): “This is how people lived in the time of Jesus. In tents and caves.”
    Jaws dropped all around the camp and the guildmistress went BUSTLING over to the fence, “Oh, no my lady, this is merely our encampment as we journey with the queen. At home in Nuremberg we live in fine houses. Many even have glass windows.”
    “You have houses?”
    “Yes. The queen herself lives in a vast house, which is sometimes called a castle.”
    “So, ya’ll had houses?”
    “Yes. And when our Lord Jesus was born fifteen hundred years ago, it was in a manger, because the inn—which is a large house—was full.”
    At which point the mother shooed her children away from the crazy woman in the big dress and we were all free to breathe again.

    Reply
  25. Tonda,
    The corset/stays part at RWA would be something — and definitely something NOT to reveal to the local newspapers! But I think the history of underwear is fascinating (I enjoyed all the posts under Loretta’s last foray into corsets) because it determines not only how the clothes fit, but the kind of body you want to present to the world. History AND sociology….
    And I loved your story about Jesus in the tents and caves. Brings new meaning to “interpreting” history, doesn’t it?
    Susan/Miranda

    Reply
  26. Tonda,
    The corset/stays part at RWA would be something — and definitely something NOT to reveal to the local newspapers! But I think the history of underwear is fascinating (I enjoyed all the posts under Loretta’s last foray into corsets) because it determines not only how the clothes fit, but the kind of body you want to present to the world. History AND sociology….
    And I loved your story about Jesus in the tents and caves. Brings new meaning to “interpreting” history, doesn’t it?
    Susan/Miranda

    Reply
  27. Tonda,
    The corset/stays part at RWA would be something — and definitely something NOT to reveal to the local newspapers! But I think the history of underwear is fascinating (I enjoyed all the posts under Loretta’s last foray into corsets) because it determines not only how the clothes fit, but the kind of body you want to present to the world. History AND sociology….
    And I loved your story about Jesus in the tents and caves. Brings new meaning to “interpreting” history, doesn’t it?
    Susan/Miranda

    Reply
  28. Tonda, that’s hilarious–though I can’t help but feel sorry for those poor boys with such an ill-informed mother!
    Last summer I dragged my husband and a couple of my CPs along to spend a few hours of the 4th of July at a Revolutionary War reenactors’ camp, and it was the best three hours of research I’ve ever had. My CPs keep praising the combat sequences in my manuscript (which always stuns me, because I still feel like I have a long way to go WRT writing action of any kind), and all I can think is that getting to handle and hear and smell those flintlocks allowed me to write about them more vividly.
    As soon as my life gets a little less hectic, I’m going to take up reenacting. I’m going to have a ran-away-to-join-the-army-disguised-as-a-boy identity so I can play with flintlocks to my heart’s content, though my husband also wants to see me in more conventional period attire. 😉

    Reply
  29. Tonda, that’s hilarious–though I can’t help but feel sorry for those poor boys with such an ill-informed mother!
    Last summer I dragged my husband and a couple of my CPs along to spend a few hours of the 4th of July at a Revolutionary War reenactors’ camp, and it was the best three hours of research I’ve ever had. My CPs keep praising the combat sequences in my manuscript (which always stuns me, because I still feel like I have a long way to go WRT writing action of any kind), and all I can think is that getting to handle and hear and smell those flintlocks allowed me to write about them more vividly.
    As soon as my life gets a little less hectic, I’m going to take up reenacting. I’m going to have a ran-away-to-join-the-army-disguised-as-a-boy identity so I can play with flintlocks to my heart’s content, though my husband also wants to see me in more conventional period attire. 😉

    Reply
  30. Tonda, that’s hilarious–though I can’t help but feel sorry for those poor boys with such an ill-informed mother!
    Last summer I dragged my husband and a couple of my CPs along to spend a few hours of the 4th of July at a Revolutionary War reenactors’ camp, and it was the best three hours of research I’ve ever had. My CPs keep praising the combat sequences in my manuscript (which always stuns me, because I still feel like I have a long way to go WRT writing action of any kind), and all I can think is that getting to handle and hear and smell those flintlocks allowed me to write about them more vividly.
    As soon as my life gets a little less hectic, I’m going to take up reenacting. I’m going to have a ran-away-to-join-the-army-disguised-as-a-boy identity so I can play with flintlocks to my heart’s content, though my husband also wants to see me in more conventional period attire. 😉

    Reply
  31. Sherrie,
    Your story proves how little modern kids actually know about animals that a hundred years ago, would have been an intimate part of most of their lives. Today they see animals as pets or talking cartoons, but make no connection between the chicken nuggets and chickens.
    Not surprisingly, the farm’s animals provided some of the more educationally entertaining moments, too. Forget birds and bees: we had chickens and goats. Our chickens roamed freely during the day, and whenever you heard some kid start screaming,”Look, look, that big chicken’s attacked the little one! He’s going to bite the head off!” — we had cheerful but accurate explanations ready that embarrassed the chaperone-parents far more than the kids.
    As for the prodigiously endowed ram (aptly named Abel), let us say he WAS rammy. Or, as one little boy noted, “That goat’s got an extra leg.”
    Susan/Miranda

    Reply
  32. Sherrie,
    Your story proves how little modern kids actually know about animals that a hundred years ago, would have been an intimate part of most of their lives. Today they see animals as pets or talking cartoons, but make no connection between the chicken nuggets and chickens.
    Not surprisingly, the farm’s animals provided some of the more educationally entertaining moments, too. Forget birds and bees: we had chickens and goats. Our chickens roamed freely during the day, and whenever you heard some kid start screaming,”Look, look, that big chicken’s attacked the little one! He’s going to bite the head off!” — we had cheerful but accurate explanations ready that embarrassed the chaperone-parents far more than the kids.
    As for the prodigiously endowed ram (aptly named Abel), let us say he WAS rammy. Or, as one little boy noted, “That goat’s got an extra leg.”
    Susan/Miranda

    Reply
  33. Sherrie,
    Your story proves how little modern kids actually know about animals that a hundred years ago, would have been an intimate part of most of their lives. Today they see animals as pets or talking cartoons, but make no connection between the chicken nuggets and chickens.
    Not surprisingly, the farm’s animals provided some of the more educationally entertaining moments, too. Forget birds and bees: we had chickens and goats. Our chickens roamed freely during the day, and whenever you heard some kid start screaming,”Look, look, that big chicken’s attacked the little one! He’s going to bite the head off!” — we had cheerful but accurate explanations ready that embarrassed the chaperone-parents far more than the kids.
    As for the prodigiously endowed ram (aptly named Abel), let us say he WAS rammy. Or, as one little boy noted, “That goat’s got an extra leg.”
    Susan/Miranda

    Reply
  34. There are several really brilliant and thought-provoking contributions here, both in the original blog and the comments.
    I endorse, totally,the immense value of experimental history/archaeology, the new insights that come from doing things as they used to be done, or even just watching them done that way.
    I would sound only one note of caution: we must be careful to remember (1) that our own cultural conditioning may cause us to perceive things in a different way from that of humans in the past.
    An obvious example: if you have ONLY ever worn long, heavy woollen skirts, you will not perceive them in the ‘contrasting’ way that those of us do who are accustomed to lighter fabrics, shorter skirts and trousers. They will feel normal, universal. Your movements and actions will take them into account unconsciously.
    (2) There is always more than one reality. In reproducing the past, choices must always be made, and some alternatives must be jettisoned for simplicity’s sake. It is vital to remember that things were not necessarily EXACTLY as we see them reproduced, but only approximately or sometimes like that.
    I grew up in early childhood on a farm without mains electricity, water and sanitation, so many of the ’19th century’ and earlier situations described by some of you are part of my personal experience, but I am acutely aware that a 1940s rural background was not the same as an 1840s or a 1740s one. Material culture and societal attitudes were very different overall, and we must beware of thinking that we understand a past era simply by observing part of its day-to-day activities, as enacted by our own contemporaries.
    That said, I am very touched and inspired to see the enthusiasm and openmindedness with which you all embrace that always-elusive concept of History.
    🙂

    Reply
  35. There are several really brilliant and thought-provoking contributions here, both in the original blog and the comments.
    I endorse, totally,the immense value of experimental history/archaeology, the new insights that come from doing things as they used to be done, or even just watching them done that way.
    I would sound only one note of caution: we must be careful to remember (1) that our own cultural conditioning may cause us to perceive things in a different way from that of humans in the past.
    An obvious example: if you have ONLY ever worn long, heavy woollen skirts, you will not perceive them in the ‘contrasting’ way that those of us do who are accustomed to lighter fabrics, shorter skirts and trousers. They will feel normal, universal. Your movements and actions will take them into account unconsciously.
    (2) There is always more than one reality. In reproducing the past, choices must always be made, and some alternatives must be jettisoned for simplicity’s sake. It is vital to remember that things were not necessarily EXACTLY as we see them reproduced, but only approximately or sometimes like that.
    I grew up in early childhood on a farm without mains electricity, water and sanitation, so many of the ’19th century’ and earlier situations described by some of you are part of my personal experience, but I am acutely aware that a 1940s rural background was not the same as an 1840s or a 1740s one. Material culture and societal attitudes were very different overall, and we must beware of thinking that we understand a past era simply by observing part of its day-to-day activities, as enacted by our own contemporaries.
    That said, I am very touched and inspired to see the enthusiasm and openmindedness with which you all embrace that always-elusive concept of History.
    🙂

    Reply
  36. There are several really brilliant and thought-provoking contributions here, both in the original blog and the comments.
    I endorse, totally,the immense value of experimental history/archaeology, the new insights that come from doing things as they used to be done, or even just watching them done that way.
    I would sound only one note of caution: we must be careful to remember (1) that our own cultural conditioning may cause us to perceive things in a different way from that of humans in the past.
    An obvious example: if you have ONLY ever worn long, heavy woollen skirts, you will not perceive them in the ‘contrasting’ way that those of us do who are accustomed to lighter fabrics, shorter skirts and trousers. They will feel normal, universal. Your movements and actions will take them into account unconsciously.
    (2) There is always more than one reality. In reproducing the past, choices must always be made, and some alternatives must be jettisoned for simplicity’s sake. It is vital to remember that things were not necessarily EXACTLY as we see them reproduced, but only approximately or sometimes like that.
    I grew up in early childhood on a farm without mains electricity, water and sanitation, so many of the ’19th century’ and earlier situations described by some of you are part of my personal experience, but I am acutely aware that a 1940s rural background was not the same as an 1840s or a 1740s one. Material culture and societal attitudes were very different overall, and we must beware of thinking that we understand a past era simply by observing part of its day-to-day activities, as enacted by our own contemporaries.
    That said, I am very touched and inspired to see the enthusiasm and openmindedness with which you all embrace that always-elusive concept of History.
    🙂

    Reply
  37. Great post. As you may have seen from my comments on Loretta’s post, I am a proud costume wearing employee alum of a living history museum.
    I will only add that I met my first real boyfriend while working at the museum.
    He was tall, thin, always carried a book and had burning blue eyes… of course if he hadn’t shown up to work everyday in a billowy white linen-y shirt (with suspenders, a hat, tight fitting period pants and the whole 9) I doubt my tongue would’ve been on the floor.
    Yes, we courted in costume all summer long and the best part is –we were paid to do it! Moo ha ha ha! Of course he was pretentious and crazy, but the shirt helped me get beyond that. : D

    Reply
  38. Great post. As you may have seen from my comments on Loretta’s post, I am a proud costume wearing employee alum of a living history museum.
    I will only add that I met my first real boyfriend while working at the museum.
    He was tall, thin, always carried a book and had burning blue eyes… of course if he hadn’t shown up to work everyday in a billowy white linen-y shirt (with suspenders, a hat, tight fitting period pants and the whole 9) I doubt my tongue would’ve been on the floor.
    Yes, we courted in costume all summer long and the best part is –we were paid to do it! Moo ha ha ha! Of course he was pretentious and crazy, but the shirt helped me get beyond that. : D

    Reply
  39. Great post. As you may have seen from my comments on Loretta’s post, I am a proud costume wearing employee alum of a living history museum.
    I will only add that I met my first real boyfriend while working at the museum.
    He was tall, thin, always carried a book and had burning blue eyes… of course if he hadn’t shown up to work everyday in a billowy white linen-y shirt (with suspenders, a hat, tight fitting period pants and the whole 9) I doubt my tongue would’ve been on the floor.
    Yes, we courted in costume all summer long and the best part is –we were paid to do it! Moo ha ha ha! Of course he was pretentious and crazy, but the shirt helped me get beyond that. : D

    Reply
  40. The orinal blog was superlative, Susan/Miranda, and some of the comments had me laughing so loudly that family members wondered into my office to discover the joke.
    If my nephews are typical, the living history museums impress children’s minds in a much more permanent fashion than do the history lessons in the conventional classrooms. The “boys” are now 26-36, but they have vivid memories of both family trips and school field trips to Westville, but they have retained distressingly little history from what was supposedly a good education.

    Reply
  41. The orinal blog was superlative, Susan/Miranda, and some of the comments had me laughing so loudly that family members wondered into my office to discover the joke.
    If my nephews are typical, the living history museums impress children’s minds in a much more permanent fashion than do the history lessons in the conventional classrooms. The “boys” are now 26-36, but they have vivid memories of both family trips and school field trips to Westville, but they have retained distressingly little history from what was supposedly a good education.

    Reply
  42. The orinal blog was superlative, Susan/Miranda, and some of the comments had me laughing so loudly that family members wondered into my office to discover the joke.
    If my nephews are typical, the living history museums impress children’s minds in a much more permanent fashion than do the history lessons in the conventional classrooms. The “boys” are now 26-36, but they have vivid memories of both family trips and school field trips to Westville, but they have retained distressingly little history from what was supposedly a good education.

    Reply
  43. From Pat Rice:
    Susie, your comments on guys in shirts is a direct lead-in to Susan/Sarah’s poet hero thesis. Watch out! I can feel it coming on.
    Susan/Miranda, a compelling post. I can’t add more than has already been said but had to add my brava.

    Reply
  44. From Pat Rice:
    Susie, your comments on guys in shirts is a direct lead-in to Susan/Sarah’s poet hero thesis. Watch out! I can feel it coming on.
    Susan/Miranda, a compelling post. I can’t add more than has already been said but had to add my brava.

    Reply
  45. From Pat Rice:
    Susie, your comments on guys in shirts is a direct lead-in to Susan/Sarah’s poet hero thesis. Watch out! I can feel it coming on.
    Susan/Miranda, a compelling post. I can’t add more than has already been said but had to add my brava.

    Reply
  46. from the other Susan,
    Susan!! I loved your blog today. That’s about as close to the 18th c. as a writer can get, and the level of detail and understanding shows in your Colonial books, which are all classics, imho. 🙂
    LOL about Abel the five-legged ram!

    Reply
  47. from the other Susan,
    Susan!! I loved your blog today. That’s about as close to the 18th c. as a writer can get, and the level of detail and understanding shows in your Colonial books, which are all classics, imho. 🙂
    LOL about Abel the five-legged ram!

    Reply
  48. from the other Susan,
    Susan!! I loved your blog today. That’s about as close to the 18th c. as a writer can get, and the level of detail and understanding shows in your Colonial books, which are all classics, imho. 🙂
    LOL about Abel the five-legged ram!

    Reply
  49. Reenacting with an audience is always good for fodder. Like the five legged ram . . . that’s too freaken funny. I used to love the folks who’d reach right into my lunch and snag a piece. The first time it happened I was floored, after a while you just got used to being a monkey in the zoo.

    Reply
  50. Reenacting with an audience is always good for fodder. Like the five legged ram . . . that’s too freaken funny. I used to love the folks who’d reach right into my lunch and snag a piece. The first time it happened I was floored, after a while you just got used to being a monkey in the zoo.

    Reply
  51. Reenacting with an audience is always good for fodder. Like the five legged ram . . . that’s too freaken funny. I used to love the folks who’d reach right into my lunch and snag a piece. The first time it happened I was floored, after a while you just got used to being a monkey in the zoo.

    Reply
  52. Miranda, have you ever gone to Mystic Seaport in Connecticut? I always recall your books that took place on sailing ships, and I wonder if that’s why they were so good. You made that time seem alive. Wish you would write another one of those again.
    But thanks for my favorite post so far.That story about the boy and the goat was hilarious!

    Reply
  53. Miranda, have you ever gone to Mystic Seaport in Connecticut? I always recall your books that took place on sailing ships, and I wonder if that’s why they were so good. You made that time seem alive. Wish you would write another one of those again.
    But thanks for my favorite post so far.That story about the boy and the goat was hilarious!

    Reply
  54. Miranda, have you ever gone to Mystic Seaport in Connecticut? I always recall your books that took place on sailing ships, and I wonder if that’s why they were so good. You made that time seem alive. Wish you would write another one of those again.
    But thanks for my favorite post so far.That story about the boy and the goat was hilarious!

    Reply
  55. For the Western pioneer experience, visit
    http://www.pioneer-arizona.com/
    They have ladies who go around to schools in full 19th century costume and talk about what it was like.
    Did any of you with living-history experience ever get tempted to rebel, like the collge students playing British soldiers at the Williamsburg pageant THE COMMON GLORY who were narrowly prevented from winning the Battle of Yorktown?

    Reply
  56. For the Western pioneer experience, visit
    http://www.pioneer-arizona.com/
    They have ladies who go around to schools in full 19th century costume and talk about what it was like.
    Did any of you with living-history experience ever get tempted to rebel, like the collge students playing British soldiers at the Williamsburg pageant THE COMMON GLORY who were narrowly prevented from winning the Battle of Yorktown?

    Reply
  57. For the Western pioneer experience, visit
    http://www.pioneer-arizona.com/
    They have ladies who go around to schools in full 19th century costume and talk about what it was like.
    Did any of you with living-history experience ever get tempted to rebel, like the collge students playing British soldiers at the Williamsburg pageant THE COMMON GLORY who were narrowly prevented from winning the Battle of Yorktown?

    Reply
  58. Hi Talpianna:
    Great question!
    While I can’t say I’ve ever been tempted to rebel, I was tempted a few times to crack my bullwhip just above the heads of several rowdy onlookers.
    Hey, that may have been the first cackles of my dark muse.
    Nina, thinking bullwhips are fun to play with.

    Reply
  59. Hi Talpianna:
    Great question!
    While I can’t say I’ve ever been tempted to rebel, I was tempted a few times to crack my bullwhip just above the heads of several rowdy onlookers.
    Hey, that may have been the first cackles of my dark muse.
    Nina, thinking bullwhips are fun to play with.

    Reply
  60. Hi Talpianna:
    Great question!
    While I can’t say I’ve ever been tempted to rebel, I was tempted a few times to crack my bullwhip just above the heads of several rowdy onlookers.
    Hey, that may have been the first cackles of my dark muse.
    Nina, thinking bullwhips are fun to play with.

    Reply
  61. Glad to see there’s so much support for living history (bullwhips and all)!
    Susie–
    Liked your story about the romantic swain in his “puffy shirt” (shades of Seinfeld). I remember a family trip to Colonial Williamsburg in high school where I fell instantly into infatuation with our waiter in period costume. He had his own long hair (like Mark Lindsay in Paul Revere & the Raiders, sigh!!) and a deep and manly voice as he set my peanut soup before me. And, of course, the white shirt. Ahhhh….
    Janga–
    Kids do remember history much better this way. For that matter, so do us old folks, too. I know lots of schools are cutting back on field trips because of the insurance and gas costs, and it’s a shame.
    Ida–
    Thanks for your kind words for my seafaring books — I did enjoy writing those, and you never know when I may start again. Let’s hope Johnny Depp can resurect pirates and privateers. I’d hoped that Russell Crowe could do it with “Master and Commander”, but alas, he let me down….
    Yes, I’ve been to Mystic, many, many times, and I agree, it’s wonderful. But be forwarned: I’m saving that for another post. 🙂
    Susan/Miranda

    Reply
  62. Glad to see there’s so much support for living history (bullwhips and all)!
    Susie–
    Liked your story about the romantic swain in his “puffy shirt” (shades of Seinfeld). I remember a family trip to Colonial Williamsburg in high school where I fell instantly into infatuation with our waiter in period costume. He had his own long hair (like Mark Lindsay in Paul Revere & the Raiders, sigh!!) and a deep and manly voice as he set my peanut soup before me. And, of course, the white shirt. Ahhhh….
    Janga–
    Kids do remember history much better this way. For that matter, so do us old folks, too. I know lots of schools are cutting back on field trips because of the insurance and gas costs, and it’s a shame.
    Ida–
    Thanks for your kind words for my seafaring books — I did enjoy writing those, and you never know when I may start again. Let’s hope Johnny Depp can resurect pirates and privateers. I’d hoped that Russell Crowe could do it with “Master and Commander”, but alas, he let me down….
    Yes, I’ve been to Mystic, many, many times, and I agree, it’s wonderful. But be forwarned: I’m saving that for another post. 🙂
    Susan/Miranda

    Reply
  63. Glad to see there’s so much support for living history (bullwhips and all)!
    Susie–
    Liked your story about the romantic swain in his “puffy shirt” (shades of Seinfeld). I remember a family trip to Colonial Williamsburg in high school where I fell instantly into infatuation with our waiter in period costume. He had his own long hair (like Mark Lindsay in Paul Revere & the Raiders, sigh!!) and a deep and manly voice as he set my peanut soup before me. And, of course, the white shirt. Ahhhh….
    Janga–
    Kids do remember history much better this way. For that matter, so do us old folks, too. I know lots of schools are cutting back on field trips because of the insurance and gas costs, and it’s a shame.
    Ida–
    Thanks for your kind words for my seafaring books — I did enjoy writing those, and you never know when I may start again. Let’s hope Johnny Depp can resurect pirates and privateers. I’d hoped that Russell Crowe could do it with “Master and Commander”, but alas, he let me down….
    Yes, I’ve been to Mystic, many, many times, and I agree, it’s wonderful. But be forwarned: I’m saving that for another post. 🙂
    Susan/Miranda

    Reply

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