Monday, June 27, 2011

From Subways to Ploughshares: a City Girl's Week on the Farm

When I was accepted to present a paper on our Living History programs at the Association of Living History, Agricultural and Farms Museums (ALHFAM) conference in Westin, West Virginia, I had no idea that my agenda would include time with a plough blade as well as a PowerPoint.

On June 3rd, I stepped off the plane and into the one-gate airport in Morgantown where I was greeted by Sierra Kessler of Historic Richmond Town in Staten Island--my sole New York City compadre. We followed the winding roads over hilltops and through valleys, stopping briefly for the necessary we’re-out-of-New York City Cracker Barrel lunch, and eventually found ourselves on the grounds of Jackson’s Mill, childhood home to Andrew Stonewall Jackson and a current 4-H campground.

Sarah gears up for the competition

During my week in West Virginia, I found a new family among first-person living history interpreters from across the country, and even met some of the characters they portray. Together, we learned new storytelling and historic theater skills, sharing ideas on how to respond to visitors’ anachronistic comments without breaking character or making anyone feel bad. I was embraced by the community of living history professionals, some of whom have been portraying their characters and attending ALHFAM conferences for longer than I’ve been alive.

As the sole representative interpreting urban life in the twentieth century, there were times when I was severely out of my element. I learned more than I ever thought possible about historic arts and machinery. I spun yarn for the first time, and practiced using natural dyes. The highlight, however, was learning to plough with a team of horses--see the video below for proof! In the end, I'm proud to say that I earned my stripes as a plough girl, coming in 4th in the novice class of the annual plough match.

Sarah is coached on how to plough a straight furrow before her turn in the match.

Though I don’t see Victoria Confino or Bridget Moore teaching our visitors to plough any time soon, it was a wonderful experience to encounter a very different aspect of American history, and to meet so many amazing living historians.

--Posted by Education Associate Sarah Litvin

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