I spent the summer at Old Sturbridge Village, a living history museum located in southern Massachusetts. The village depicts American life in the late 1830s, on the cusp of the market and transportation revolutions. While there, I had the opportunity to experience work in both historical interpretation and museum education.
During alternating weeks, I was a costumed interpreter at various stations in OSV. While interpreting in the shoe-making shop, I had the opportunity to make a pair of all-leather, early nineteenth-century work shoes for myself. For each spot where I worked, I received extensive instruction regarding the history of the activities I portrayed. For instance, I learned that work shoes in the 1830s were not made left and right, and that the hides which New England tanners turned into leather for shoes often came from California, Argentina or India. On days I was not driving shoe pegs, I sometimes worked in the schoolhouse. Speaking to visitors there was very enjoyable, since all of them have educational experiences with which they can compare the system common in Massachusetts before Horace Mann’s reforms of the 1840s and '50s. Occasionally, I also had the chance to work on the farm, where I tried my hand at milking a cow, hoed part of a corn field and learned how to cut rye. Manual labor is always so satisfying, particularly when I can look back at the end of the day and see just how much progress I made. On the Fourth of July, I even got to be part of the militia for a day and learn how to fire a musket.
I was only in the village every other week. The rest of the time I spent helping with the OSV day camp programs which run each summer. Although initially this meant photocopying registration forms, I later received responsibility for planning curriculum and even for being an assistant camp teacher. Working with 8- to 10-year-olds aided me as I consider the possibility of teaching history after I graduate; it also gave me a greater appreciation for my parents. Being able to share our past with children and adults alike while also gaining valuable experience for my resume made the summer an enriching time.