Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History

Interview with Sarah Lerch and Eric Waywood, August 7, 2017

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

 

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00:00:00 - Introducing Sarah Lerch and Eric Waywood, who portray middle-class 19th century farmers

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Partial Transcript: This is an unrehearsed oral history interview for the Living History Oral History project.

Segment Synopsis: Waywood says they do not play roles, they perform farm work in the same way it would have been done in the mid 19th century and interpret to visitors using a third person voice. He lists a variety of typical farm tasks including household and field tasks. He says the Homeplace has a library of primary sources and research located at the collections room on site. He says most of the research papers written here date to the origin of the site in the early 1970s. Lerch says her background is in archives from when she worked at Old Sturbridge Village as a curatorial summer intern. She said the museum work led to volunteering as a costume interpreter. She says her main interests are in clothing and foodways because all people can relate to these subjects. Waywood talks about how many visitors have never experienced a farm, let alone a 19th century farm.

Keywords: Archives; Clothing; Costume interpreters; Farming; Farms; Foodways; Original sources; Personas; Research; School groups; Third person voice

Subjects: Association for Living History, Farm and Agricultural Museums; Land Between the Lakes (Ky. and Tenn.); Living History Farms (Museum); Old Sturbridge Village.; Old Sturbridge Village. Research Library

GPS: Homeplace 1850s Working Farm at Land Between The Lakes
Map Coordinates: 36.6555126, -87.9752192
00:06:03 - Elements of living history interpretation

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Partial Transcript: Before we started recording, Sarah, you were saying that you have an academic background in, uh, in this activity. Tell me more about that.

Segment Synopsis: Lerch talks about her undergraduate degree in history and classical studies, and her master's degree in public history with a focus on living history museums. She says she has enjoyed the sensation of going back in time since she was a child, and her best learning style involves hearing, touching and doing, and learning by experience. Waywood says that in addition to farming, other industries between the rivers included timbering, iron smelting, and charcoal manufacturing. He says land between the Cumberland and Tennessee Rivers was distributed as payment for service in the American War for Independence. He says much of the land was used for tobacco farming. Waywood says that the Homeplace tries to achieve authenticity by keeping heritage breeds of livestock and raising heirloom crops as much as possible. He says not all of the livestock is entirely correct for the period, and he gives the example of using mules instead of oxen. He says the other species such as dominicker chickens and the short-horn and ayrshire cattle are period correct heritage breeds. He says heritage breeds are considered rare or endangered, mostly because there is little market demand for such livestock.

Keywords: Artifacts; Authenticity; Ayrshire cattle; Dominicker chickens; Experiential learning; Heritage breeds; Iron furnaces; Livestock; Public history; Tamworth hogs; Timbering; Time machine metaphor; Tobacco; Visual learning

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

00:11:32 - Authenticity versus realism / Time machine metaphor for living history

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Partial Transcript: Certainly the question of authenticity is an important feature of living history interpretation, but I also want to explore the question of realism.

Segment Synopsis: Lerch talks about historical accuracy in living history presentations and the need for artifacts to both appear period correct and to function correctly. She says reproductions are suitable for accuracy because their function, purpose and appearance are the same as originals. She uses the example of the water source on the farm, which originally would have been a spring house, but that the spring has since dried. She says a different water source is necessary due to the demands of the farm and visitors, and that practicality drives some functions at the site. Waywood points out that health and safety limitations to authenticity extend to the livestock on the farm which require the most current standard of medical care and safety. Wayword says that the living history interpretive method at the Homeplace involves a forward movement for the time machine metaphor because the experience is not immersive and does not use first person voice. He says their technique often involves making comparisons between the past and the present such as comparing a team of oxen to a bulldozer, or mules to a tractor. He says they bring history to the visitor rather than immersion. Lerch concurs with the comparison technique using the example of inviting visitors to find familiar artifacts in a kitchen. She discusses how knowledge of the past and present are relevant to the future, and refers to the film "Wall-E" to illustrate time as a continuum with changing perspectives.

Keywords: First person voice; Livestock; Personas; Reproductions; Spinning wheels; Third person voice; Time machine metaphor

Subjects: Association for Living History, Farm and Agricultural Museums; Land Between the Lakes (Ky. and Tenn.); Living History Association; Living History Farms (Museum)

00:18:55 - Living history and attitudes and values of the past

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Partial Transcript: Another--and this may be the wrong venue to focus on this, but I'm interested in understanding this from the standpoint of methodology.

Segment Synopsis: Lerch talks about challenging the notion that the past represents a simpler time without the burdens of technology. She points out that in the period the Homeplace represents, the year 1850, the U.S. was on the brink of Civil War, women had no political rights, and African Americans were enslaved in large numbers. She says living history can address social issues as well as illustrate changes in technology. She talks about other differences that can be illustrated, such as the availability of medical advancements, hot water, and leisure time. She says the farm does not actively interpret slavery, but that they do occasionally address the issue since there were some limited number of slaves on the site in the 1850s. Waywood says many consider questions of slavery as taboo, but interpreters are prepared to answer questions about slavery. He says there was one documented slave at the site. He talks about the historical research which shows some slaves were treated like family and others were abused. Lerch says that a small middle class farm is not the proper venue for actively addressing slavery since it was such a limited element of the farm historically.

Keywords: African Americans; Farming; Farms; Gender roles; Native Americans; Personas; Racial roles; Research; Story telling; Third person voice

Subjects: Association for Living History, Farm and Agricultural Museums; Land Between the Lakes (Ky. and Tenn.); Living History Farms (Museum); Slavery

00:23:57 - Ownership of cultural identity

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Partial Transcript: Well and on that topic, um--and, and I guess this is sort of a related issue, the question of, I guess I would say identity ownership.

Segment Synopsis: Lerch says that her thesis focused on a lack of diversity in living history, such as interpretations of African Americans that are either slaves or free blacks. She asks the question whether an Asian, Hispanic, or Arabic person could interpret an 18th century Massachusetts farmer. She points out that third person interpretation serves a different purpose which may justify a person portraying a role outside of gender or ethnicity. She says she is not opposed to crossing those boundaries. Waywood says third person voice is not portraying the person but the history. He says that a first person interpretation might need to involve gender or ethnic ownership, but third person does not. Lerch says she is not comfortable with cross cultural portrayals of Native Americans because their culture has been exploited, manipulated, and appropriated by European cultures. She suggests these issues require a sense of self awareness by the interpreter and awareness of what other sites are doing.

Keywords: African Americans; Authenticity; Colonial Williamsburg; First person voice; Gender roles; Imposters; Native Americans; Personas; Third person voice

Subjects: Association for Living History, Farm and Agricultural Museums; Land Between the Lakes (Ky. and Tenn.); Living History Farms (Museum); Native Americans; Old Sturbridge Village.

00:29:55 - Favorite memory from a living history event

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Partial Transcript: Let me wrap things up with what I call my capstone question, if I may. Um, oral history is about capturing memories, and, and, and using it as a foundation for, uh, making history or studying history.

Segment Synopsis: Waywood says his favorite memories are a collection of moments in which he connects with visitors who recognize elements of the farm from their own past. He says he enjoys the engagement with visitors and hearing their stories because the experience contributes to a better understanding of the history. Lerch says she had an emotional reaction to the capstone question. She relates an experience from her work as a school keeper at Old Sturbridge Village when a child experienced stage fright when invited to talk with her in front of a group. She says she warmed him up by getting on his level and singing the ABC Song together with him, which led to the entire group singing along. She says living history programs and museums should provide safe spaces for learning which should be fun and enjoyable. She says she hopes the child formed a lasting memory, and that in that moment she felt a sense of confidence that she could succeed as a living history interpreter.

Keywords: Alphabet song; Storytelling; Teachers

Subjects: Association for Living History, Farm and Agricultural Museums; Land Between the Lakes (Ky. and Tenn.); Living History Farms (Museum); Old Sturbridge Village.