Becoming a Better Historian

This post is part of a series featuring behind-the-scenes dispatches from our Pohanka Interns on the front lines of history this summer as interpreters, archivists, and preservationists. See here for the introduction to the series.

By Jon Tracey ’19

I’ve had an absolutely incredible summer at Appomattox. I will be leaving the National Historical Park with tons of knowledge and wonderful memories, as well as valuable experience. I’ve learned so much over the course of the summer, both about the Civil War as well as about myself. I’ve become a better historian, learned how to complete more advanced research, and discovered new ways to help teach the public about history. Of course, the summer had plenty of ups as well as downs. Losing power and air conditioning on a hot Virginia night while trying to do research was certainly frustrating! I also had some experiences with visitors that were less than perfect. While delivering first person living history programs, I had to stay within the context of what that particular soldier would have known in the summer of 1865. Sometimes visitors wouldn’t understand that, and once I was shouted at for being unable to answer the question of “What’s original inside the general store?” Luckily, that interaction was the exception rather than the rule, as most of my internship was filled with high points.

McLean House, Appomattox Court House National Historical Park. Photo courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

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Living History or LARPing? The Case of Vox’s Modern Victorians

By Alex Andrioli ’18

Sarah A. Chrisman and her husband, Gabriel, love the late Victorian era. Like many lovers of history, the Chrismans have a specific time period they enjoy studying more than others. For them, it’s the 1880s and 1890s. However, they take their research a little more seriously than most. They don’t just take their work home with them, they live their work.

In an article for Vox, Sarah Chrisman wrote, “Everything in our daily life is connected to our period of study, from the technologies we use to the ways we interact with the world.” She and her husband live in Port Townsend, Washington in a house that was built in 1888. They have replaced many modern appliances with “period-appropriate” appliances like the electric refrigerator that came with their house when they bought the property. They now have an icebox that they stock with block ice that dribbles into a drip tray that requires being emptied once or twice a day depending on the season. Along with this icebox, the Chrisman house is stocked with a mechanical clock that needs to be wound every day, fountain pens and ink, electric light bulbs that are based on the original patents of Edison and Tesla, oil lamps, mortars and pestles, a hairbrush that has a 130-year-old design, and toothbrushes that have natural boar bristles. These, among other items, are what make up the Chrismans’ Victorian paradise.

An 1885 painting depicting a woman playing tennis in fashionable Victorian clothing. Did the woman in this painting have the same opinion of her clothing as Chrisman? “I became so accustomed to the presence and movements of my skirts, they started to send me little signals about my proximity to the objects around myself.” Painting by Sir John Lavery, via Wikimedia Commons. Sir John Lavery. “A Rally.” 1885.

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Point/Counterpoint: Blanks Fired


By Bryan Caswell ’15 and Heather Clancy ’15


The following post is part of a series meant to conduct and spark a friendly philosophical discussion of broadly visible themes. It is not our intent to single out any one group or person, and by no means should the points expressed herein be regarded as any kind of attack on either the reenacting community or academia.

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You Can’t Light a Fire Without a Spark

By Bobby Novak ’15

Bobby Novak, ’15

Upon finding out that I would represent Gettysburg College as a Brian C. Pohanka Intern at Petersburg National Battlefield, I was ecstatic though a little wary. The Petersburg Campaign was one on which I had never truly focused. I had heard of the Crater, the battles of White Oak Road and Five Forks, but I did not fully understand the scope and magnitude of the campaign. However, as a student whose passion is the experience of the common soldier, I quickly realized what a perfect fit the Petersburg Campaign is for my interests.

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