This weekend I played tourist. Because I’ve lived in many places in several countries, I discovered that one of the best ways to learn about my home was to seek out the tourist spots. It’s a great way to look at the place I live with different eyes. That’s why on Saturday my husband and I hopped into the car and drove to Jamestown Settlement, near Williamsburg, Virginia for an event called Military Through the Ages.
I confess that I’m a total history nerd. I have always loved history and grew up with parents who were history nerds, so our vacations usually were to living history museums, battlefields, and national park sites. Jamestown Settlement (not to be confused with Historic Jamestowne, the National Park site located next door) is a living history museum with magnificent galleries and outdoor sites manned with costumed interpreters giving visitors a glimpse into 17th century Virginia.
Jamestown Settlement is also an easy day trip from my house. Give me a sunny day and time to prowl the halls of history and I’m one happy camper.
Military Through the Ages brings together living history enthusiasts of all time periods and countries in one place. Over 600 reenactors represented military units from ancient Rome to the Vikings to the Spanish Civil War to the Women’s Land Army to World War II and Vietnam. The weather was perfect as we strolled through the camps. We talked to the interpreters, tried on armor, asked what was cooking over their fires, and watched unit demonstrations on a lawn situated between a reconstructed James Fort and the tall ships that brought English settlers to the New World.
Everyone at Jamestown was passionate about history and their enthusiasm showed. They were happy to talk about their time period, their gear, and what a person like them would be doing in camp.
For some units, MTA is the one event of the year that they attend. In the United States, there isn’t much call for ancient Romans or Vikings. The Spanish Civil War falls between the two World Wars, so they don’t fit into either category. Sometimes the reenactors couldn’t answer our questions and, honestly, that was okay. I was impressed when they admitted they didn’t know everything, and they called over someone else in the unit who had that information. A few times I was given the title of books that would be helpful in learning more about the period.
That’s when I realized that living history can be a gateway to books.
All those times my parents loaded us into the car for a trip to a museum with costumed interpreters, history came alive. I never thought history was boring, although a few of my teachers made it dull when they droned on with mind numbing lists of dates and places. I always wanted to know the rest of the story. What kind of people were they? What did they wear? What did the average person really think of what was happening? What was it like to be a kid in a different century?
Reading fills in those blanks. I read whatever I can find: histories, letters, social studies, and, yes, historical fiction. Nothing puts me in another place and time like a well written and well researched tale. Historical cozies, in particular, have a place on my nightstand.
Living history brings the past alive. Reading lets us learn from the past.
How do you like your history?