Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History

Interview with Cindy Earls, August 7, 2017

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


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00:00:00 - Introducing Cindy Earls, who portrays a 19th century farm woman

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Partial Transcript: [Only ambient noise until 00:00:23 during demonstration of Homeplace 1850s Working Farm.]

This is an unrehearsed oral history interview for the Living History Oral History Project.

Segment Synopsis: Cindy Earls says she is portraying a middle class or yeoman class of mid-19th century farm woman. She specifies that the time period is the 1850s, the decade before the Civil War. She says she has been doing living history interpretation for over 30 years, since she was in junior high school. She says her degree is in recreation and parks. She says she began her career at Hopewell Furnace, which is a National Park Service site in Pennsylvania. She thinks the NPS does not do as many living history programs as before. She talks about "free play for children" which includes a log cabin building kit. She says before educating the public about history, they have to educate them about what a farm is. She discusses food culture, pointing out that the big meal is dinner at midday, and supper is leftovers in the evening. She talks about the disappearing family farm culture, which is their educational mission. She says in the 19th century, livestock would free-range, so crops were fenced in rather than livestock. She talks about sources for vegetables and meat for the 19th century farm. She says by 1850, much of the wild game had been hunted out.

Keywords: Black bears; Buffalo; Cash crops; Cattle; Chickens; Corn; Deer; Experiential learning; Farmers; Farming; Farms; Fences; Fish; Foodways; Free range animals; Gardening; Hearth; Hogs; Interpretation; Livestock; Living history; Middle class; Panthers; Tobacco; Vegetables; Wood stoves

Subjects: American Revolution Bicentennial, 1976; Hopewell Furnace National Historic Site (Agency : U.S.); Hopewell Furnace National Historic Site (Pa.); Land Between the Lakes (Ky. and Tenn.); United States. National Park Service.

00:09:23 - Living history architecture and geography

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Partial Transcript: So I'm interested also about the Homeplace that this--you mentioned that this is a farm from the 1850s but, uh, there's a number of buildings here, like this one we're sitting under, this is like the main house.

Segment Synopsis: Earls talks about the buildings on the living history farm site. She says most of the buildings are 19th century structures collected from the Land Between the Lakes area and relocated to the site. She says the only exception is the main house which is 19th century, but relocated from outside LBL. She says that the collection of buildings are typical of a farm of the period. She talks about some of the construction practices of buildings. Earls says that middle class farm families of the 19th century in the region probably did not own slaves. She discusses the farm location in Tennessee in an area that was formerly in Kentucky and how that affects doing period research. She talks about the numerous barns that were needed to separate livestock to keep them cooler. She discusses the dovetail construction techniques and the use of iron materials. Earls mentions the iron industry in the area in the 19th century.

Keywords: Architecture; Archives; Barns; Cribs; Double pen houses; Farms; Living history farms; Living history museums; Log cabins; Nails; Outbuildings; Research; Servants; Slavery

Subjects: Land Between the Lakes (Ky. and Tenn.); Land Between the Lakes National Recreation Area handbook

00:15:05 - Losses to fire and flood / Educational interpretation

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Partial Transcript: I know that last year I was going to come here and there was a flood that kept me from being here, but I also heard that the--there was another house on this site that burned. Is that correct?

Segment Synopsis: Earls talks about the original house on the site that mysteriously burned in 1982, and the loss of antique furnishings in the fire. She says that as an interpreter, she relies on using a third person voice for educational purposes. She says living history interpreters depend on academic research, and she mentions a book by Donald L. Winters, "Tennessee Farms, Tennessee Farmers: Antebellum Agriculture Upper South" as a source. She discusses primary sources in addition to secondary sources to support the interpretive program. She says the site has archived files of research conducted by previous interpreters at the site. She says she specializes in textiles and talks about the fibers produced on the farm and the craft products. She says in the early settlement period, every farm would likely have a loom but by the 1850s industrialization made looms obsolete. She says farm blacksmith shops would likely have been small operations for repair rather than production.

Keywords: Antiques; Blacksmith tools; Blacksmiths; Cotton; Donald L. Winters; Farmers; Farming; First person voice; Flax; Foodways; Interpreters; Linsey-woolsey; Looms; Mechanics; Personas; Primary sources; Research; Secondary sources; Textiles; Third person voice; Wool

Subjects: Land Between the Lakes (Ky. and Tenn.); Land Between the Lakes National Recreation Area handbook

00:21:14 - Living history organizational structure / Public interest in living history

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Partial Transcript: Now you are the one wh--in our telephone conversation last year that made me aware of AHLFAM...

Segment Synopsis: Earls talks about the organization of the Association of Living History Farm and Agricultural Museums or ALHFAM. She says the Homeplace is an institutional member, but that the organization also accepts individual members. She says a goal of the farm is to support traditional artists and a trades fair is one such event. She discusses the range of trades represented in the fair such as blacksmithing, baking, and tatting. She also discusses a scavenger hunt feature designed to engage children with the craft people. She says the public has a continuing fascination with how people lived in the past.

Keywords: Baking; Blacksmiths; Broom making; Lace; Material culture; Reproductions; Tatting; Trades fairs

Subjects: Association for Living History, Farm and Agricultural Museums; Living History Association; Living History Farms (Museum)

00:25:03 - Authenticity in living history

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Partial Transcript: One of the, uh, analytical tools I'm looking at in trying to understand living history interpretation, uh, revolves around a question of authenticity.

Segment Synopsis: Earls says that as an interpreter, she wants to be as authentic as possible. She adds that it is also critical to understand the complexity and nuance of how people lived and thought in the past. She says she would not enjoy living in primitive conditions on a permanent basis. She discusses how to address sensitive social issues as a living history interpreter, and says that using a third person voice helps to address those issues directly while minimizing the possibility of causing offense. She says discussion of those issues are driven by the visitor, and the goal of the Homeplace is to educate regarding farm culture. She says many visitors are unaware of the basic concept of a farm, and do not understand that the livestock are not pets and not given names. She says that educating the public about 19th century farming helps them to understand farming today. She says the Homeplace portrays the middle class which is unusual for a museum, and the living history program helps make the experience real. She discusses how the creation of an artifact in the past might have used toxic substances, and that reproductions use a different process for safety. She adds that using a third person voice helps to explain the processes for producing artifacts and the reasons for changing the process over time.

Keywords: Authenticity; Cash crops; Cattle; Chickens; Experiential learning; Farming; Farms; Hogs; Livestock; Reproductions; Research; Safety; Third person voice

Subjects: Land Between the Lakes (Ky. and Tenn.); Land Between the Lakes National Recreation Area handbook; Living History Farms (Museum)

00:31:34 - Authenticity in process / Research sources

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Partial Transcript: This is a topic that has come up a number of times in my research, and what I'm finding, and I, I, I really want to kind of get to it, but I didn't want to ask a leading question...

Segment Synopsis: Earls talks about using a mix of original artifacts and reproductions in living history presentations which allows comparison and a better understanding of continuity. She confirms that authenticity can be integrated into the process of manufacture to achieve an authentic and realistic reproduction. She talks about membership in the National Association for Interpretation which trains and certifies interpretive guides. She says the NAI also includes natural history.

Keywords: Antiques; Authenticity; Coverlets; Freeman Tildon; Furniture; Historical realism; Interpreters; Interpretive guides; National Association for Interpretation; Natural history; Quilts; Reproductions; Research; Textiles

Subjects: Land Between the Lakes (Ky. and Tenn.); Land Between the Lakes National Recreation Area handbook; Living History Farms (Museum)

00:36:22 - Public interest in history

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Partial Transcript: The book that I read by Jay Anderson is entitled "Time Machines." Uh, I guess you're familiar with this book?

Segment Synopsis: Earls talks about experiencing the "period rush," but makes the distinction between the profession of interpretation and the hobby of reenactment. She discusses public interest in history associated with anniversaries and theatrical productions such as "Hamilton," which she says tends to promote curiosity about history. She speaks of surveys of public interest which indicate people want local history and something "special" which is a unique and hands-on experience. She says her favorite memory was from her work at Hopewell when she was shelling peas and a little boy was excited to learn about where peas came from.

Keywords: American Revolution; Education; Environmental education; First person voice; Hamilton (Musical); Interpretation; Interpreters; Jay Anderson; Peas; Reenactors; Spinning wheels; Third person voice

Subjects: Hopewell Furnace National Historic Site (Agency : U.S.); Hopewell Furnace National Historic Site (Pa.); Land Between the Lakes (Ky. and Tenn.); Land Between the Lakes National Recreation Area handbook; Living History Farms (Museum)