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Interpreting the Past

The ethical, political, and economic factors influencing how our history is portrayed

Summer 2012

During this 3-week course Washington College students were immersed in the interpretation of the past by exposure to various institutions, researchers, re-enactors, actors, scientists, archaeologists, historians, and staff that are responsible for this important role. Students visited and were given “behind the scene tours” of a variety of museums (the Smithsonian Museum of the American Indian and the Museum of Natural History, the National Museum in Copenhagen), open-air museums (Williamsburg, Lejre: Land of Legends in Denmark, the Roskilde Viking Ship Museum in Denmark), conservation labs (Winterthur, MAC lab), Medieval Times, a Society for Creative Anachronism group, a civil war re-enactment group, an international primitive technology gathering (the Athraa gathering); and, learned in a lecture/discussion format. After spending a considerable amount of time learning about how the past was interpreted to them, the students embarked on a culminating experience where they were required to put into practice all that they had learned by becoming interpreters themselves. During the final fours days of the course, students inhabited a reconstructed Iron Age Village, cooked and ate only period correct food, wore period correct dress, and use only period correct tools while interpreting Iron Age life to the public.