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Uncovering the Past
History isn’t quite a thing of the past for rising senior Robbie Teel ’15, who has spent his summer helping to uncover it at Historic Jamestowne.
A history major with an interest in early American history, Robbie Teel ’15 has spent his summer as a tour guide at Historic Jamestowne, the site of the first permanent English colony in America. In addition to its hefty historical significance, Jamestown is an active archaeological dig site, which has given Teel first-hand experience in the work that goes into interpreting and researching history.
Since 1994, archaeological finds at Jamestown have guided the understanding of 17th-century American history. Everything dug up at Jamestown, from the foundations of the old James Fort to cannibalized human remains from the “starving times” in 1609, has shaped the way American history scholars look at the early 1600s. Teel has been an active part of that research and interpretation. The discovery this summer of buried artifacts dating back to the early 1600s might just earn one more rewrite of the history books once its secrets are unraveled.
With information he assembled from historical, anthropological, archaeological, and environmental science records, Teel wrote his own tours, which he uses to guide his guests through the site every day, rain or shine. “I think the scariest part at first was giving public tours,” he says. “I wrote the tour, had it approved, and the day after I had to give it in front of a group of more than 50 people. These are people who’ve presumably come from all over to see this site, they’ve paid to see it and they want to be satisfied.”
It hasn’t always been easy to keep those guests satisfied, but armed with his research, Teel is prepared to handle just about any curveball his curious guests may throw him - graciously. As he puts it, “I don’t want to make anyone feel bad for being wrong, especially when they call me out in front of a tour group of 75.”
This is especially important because Teel’s tour groups often contain people with wildly opposing opinions. “I have learned how to facilitate totally opposite points of view and still manage to provide quality information,” he says, adding that out of everything he’s learned so far this summer, the ability to navigate the “politics” of groups of people is the most important.
In addition to the daily tours, Teel is creating a hands-on education program that uses historical artifacts to teach students in grades K through six about history and archaeology. In fact, he’s been working on two: one for student groups who visit the actual Jamestowne location, and the other an online version that uses 3D scans of the artifacts to give remote students the same experiences they would have on site. It has, he says, taught him “a lot about the world of education, and how to design programs, and sort of what it is that teachers do.”
With one year of classes left before graduation, Robbie is already thinking ahead to his future. Though he eventually plans to go to graduate school, he intends to work and gain practical experience in non-traditional education at museums or historical sites before he does.