Monday, December 3, 2012

My Season at The Banke

Last Spring when I found the notice about openings in the interpretation staff at Strawbery Banke I was at a particularly low point. Temping after the loss of a very good job, feeling like I was not advancing in my field, knowing that I was a drain on my family’s pocketbooks, and not feeling qualified for any job that I might actually want. I saw the SBM notice on their Facebook page. Apparently the usual methods of advertising the position usually yielded a lot of folks that had no idea what they were getting themselves into, but putting the notice up to those who had already “liked” the museum on FB meant that they only heard from people who were really interested in the job of Interpreter at Strawbery Banke.

I was in a place not dis-similar from the last time I had applied for that same job, back in 1998. At the time I was half-way through college, feeling rather lost and depressed, not really sure where I was going. Back then, working at the Banke showed me that one could be a professional in the field of Living History, or at least history, and set me on the way to where I am now. This time my loving family all agreed, maybe it was time to go back and get re-energized, see if the field had changed, and if the Banke had anything else to teach me. I’m so glad I went for it.

There are four variations to the “front line” staff job at Strawbery Banke. There are the Interpreters, who wear modern clothes and speak about the history of the different houses from a modern perspective. There are the Museum Teachers, who teach special workshops to school groups, scout groups, special tours, and those who request specific learning experiences. The demonstration folks have specific skills like weaving or hearth cooking that they practice and teach. Then there are the Costumed Role-Players, who portray specific people from a specific time in the neighborhood’s history. The initial job posting was for interpreters, but during my interview I managed to convince the poor fella interviewing me that I could do all of the above, I hope over the course of the season I proved my worth.

I jumped right in last May, learning workshops, hearth cooking, regular interpreting, and the role of Mrs. Shapiro. By mid-summer I was capable of working in just about any house on the property plus doing research for new program proposals. By fall I had multiple roles, new programs, and had made a whole lot of new friends.

Most importantly, I got to spend the summer doing something that I love. I don’t know why teaching history by doing is my passion. I mean, I know why I think it is a worth while endeavor, and I think I know why I am good at it. But why do I give almost all of my energy over to this when it will probably never earn me a living wage, be enough to support a family, leave me with even the hope of a retirement even if I put it off until I am 80?

I just love it.

And this past year has made me so happy. There has not been a single day where I did not want to go in to work. Okay, maybe I spent some time wishing it was not quite so early, that there were more days in the week, and definitely that my commute was not nearly so long; but any time folks asked me how work was going, I could genuinely say that my work was awesome.

I have two wishes this holiday season. One of them is a secret, the other is a hope that I get to spend more time doing what I love.


  1. When you say you "I managed to convince the poor fella interviewing me that I could do all of the above" was that because he didn't feel the hobby FP reenacting you did was applicable? Or was that an asset that convinced him? I'm wondering whether all that past experience was helpful during the interview for a "professional reenactor" position or whether it was looked on askance or with derision?

    BTW, congrats on a great year!

    1. Thanks!
      It was more that I told him, "I can do this, oh, I can do that too, yes I've been doing that for the past 3 years, why yes, I am Jewish!" that renders me sympathetic to the interviewer. When in interviews I don't actually say that I've been reenacting for x number of years, that is not professional language. I've read the books, taken the classes, and worked at museums before, which means I can talk fairly intelligently about the Living History skills that I have both in the area of historical skills, and the areas of education and audience interaction. I do mention my work at Renaissance faires, where I taught history and interactive theatre, managed large groups of volunteers, props, and costumes. If they ask I will let them know how little money I made doing all that, but most people don't ask for salary specifics for each different job I've had.

      I've done reenacting, but that does not make me a living historian. The whole of my work, studies, interests and pursuits makes me a living historian.