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Interview with Brad Spear, August 27, 2016

Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History, University of Kentucky Libraries


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00:00:00 - Introducing Brad Spear, portraying an 18th century surgeon Dr. Hawkins

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Partial Transcript: This is an unrehearsed oral history interview for the Living History Oral History Project. My name is JD Carruthers.

Segment Synopsis: Brad Spear says he is portraying a Dr. Hawkins, an 18th century surgeon who worked at Fort Frederica, in first-person voice. Spear points out the nearby foundations of the house in which Dr. Hawkins lived and worked. He says Dr. Hawkins was a civilian doctor and surgeon under military contract for the regiment garrisoned at Fort Frederica in the 1730s and 1740s. Spear talks about the 18th century history of coastal Georgia when the region was the frontier between the British and Spanish empires. Spear says he works for Georgia State Parks while his wife works for the National Park Service. He says he worked as a blacksmith at Saint Augustine for ten years and that this role was another living history persona of his. Spear says he does both first and third person voice, but that he typically goes in and out of first person in order better to answer visitor questions. He says at living history sites like Plimoth Plantation, the interpreters never break first person voice, which is sometimes frustrating for visitors. Spear discusses the concepts of experience and experimental archaeology and how some interpretations are predicated on educated guesses.

Keywords: Authenticity; First person voice; Persona; Plimoth Plantation; Third person voice

Subjects: Blacksmithing.; Castillo de San Marcos (Saint Augustine, Fla.); Experiential learning.; Experimental archaeology.; Fort Frederica (Ga.); Fort Frederica National Monument (Ga.); Living History Farms (Museum); Saint Augustine (Fla.)--History.; Saint Simons Island (Ga. : Island); Saint Simons Island (Ga.); Surgeons.; Surgery--History.; United States. National Park Service.

00:04:31 - Fabrication of tools for reenactments

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Partial Transcript: Now I know that you, uh, you--before we started recording here you said that you had fabricated a lot of these tools. Tell me about the research and the fabrication and the, uh--you mentioned that a lot of it was produced, uh, off site.

Segment Synopsis: Spear talks about his research process in fabricating period surgical tools, which consisted of visiting living history sites and events to photograph and draw sketches of those tools. He says he then used his blacksmithing and woodworking skills to fabricate reproduction tools based on his research. He says many of these tools would be otherwise hard to find or too expensive to acquire for living history presentations. He talks about how his work creating reproduction surgical kits resulted in a sutler from Valley Forge contacting him to reproduce a capital surgeon's kit which would be used for major operations such as amputations. He says the kit he has on display is a capital surgeon's kit. He says he used a drawing of a 1777 surgical kit from the London College of Surgeons combined with his own research to reproduce the kit. He discusses the detailed design features on the tools he reproduced from this research. He says the economics of him recreating all these tools would be too expensive, so some of the fabrication work was outsourced to blacksmiths in Pakistan. He confirms that all the reproductions are hand-made in the same process as the originals.

Keywords: Original sources; Research; Surgical kits

Subjects: Blacksmithing.; Surgery--History.; Sutlers.; Woodwork.

00:08:26 - Recreating surgeries / Acting in film productions

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Partial Transcript: Now in your, uh, portrayal do you--is it always just like an interpretive uh, piece here, or do you ever like, d--recreate surgeries or anything of that nature?

Segment Synopsis: Spear talks about recreating amputations using fake hands and feet as part of his living history presentations. He says he has been cast in motion picture films as a surgeon, including a part in "Last of the Mohicans" but that some of his parts were not included in the final film. He says he acted in other scenes in "Last of the Mohicans" as well as "The Patriot", "Follow the River", "Tecumseh", and History Channel productions. He talks about how the History Channel used footage from a National Park Service production to create a new television production. He says he typically gets paid a flat fee, compensated meals and camping facilities when working as a film extra. He talks about how experienced living history reenactors and interpreters will either leave modern elements behind or keep them under cover in campsites.

Keywords: Authenticity; Interpreters; Reenactors

Subjects: Castillo de San Marcos (Saint Augustine, Fla.); History Channel (Television network); Jamestown (Va.); Jamestown (Va.)--History.; United States. National Park Service.

00:12:00 - Representation of historical values and cultural appropriation / Informing interpretations

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Partial Transcript: Now, uh, uh, in doing the, uh, living history, uh, presentations, uh, there's often a question about representation of values that a hundred and fifty, two-hundred years ago, uh, cultural values were a lot different than we see today.

Segment Synopsis: Spear talks about how living history interpreters must be careful in addressing issues of bias from the past. He says it is useful to shift from a first person voice to a third person voice to address issues of biased attitudes from the past. He says considering modern sensibilities, there are areas to avoid unless specifically asked. He adds that it is important to take a clinical approach to discussions of historical bias. Spear expresses the view that it is acceptable to cross cultural lines in living history presentations and uses the example of a person of Asian descent participating at an 18th century living history event at Fort Frederica even though such a person would not have been there during the period. He suggests it would be unfair to exclude a living history participant based on racial appearance. He says a living history practitioner should be viewed as a representation of a persona and not as a literal replication. Spear talks about researching period medical journals and other original sources on historical medicine and surgery to support his living history presentations. He discusses Freeman Tildon's interpretive principles and also his personal experience. He talks about historical anniversaries such as the United States Bicentennial generating interest in living history.

Keywords: Bias; Freeman Tildon; Original sources; Persona; Research

Subjects: American Revolution Bicentennial, 1976.; Gender and society; Gender.; Medicine--History.; Medicine.; Race awareness.; Surgeons.; Surgery--History.

00:16:46 - Public interest in living history / Favorite living history memory

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Partial Transcript: Um, do you think that the public interest is, uh, growing, or--

Segment Synopsis: Spear says public interest in living history increases and decreases, and that these changes are often linked to notable anniversaries such as the Civil War sesquicentennial. Spear says his favorite memories in reenactments relate to the sensation of being transported in time and gives several examples. He also mentions the comradeship of other living history practitioners and his wife as favorite memories. He refers to a reenactment of the 225th anniversary of the Battle of Trenton when he and his wife were portraying Hessians and the entire group refused to participate if his wife was not allowed to join them.

Keywords: Historical anniversaries; Reenactment; Reenactors

Subjects: Civil war.; Gender and society; Gender.; Hessians.; Trenton, Battle of, Trenton, N.J., 1776.; United States--History--Civil War, 1861-1865.; United States--History--War of 1812.