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Public History News

Date: Oct 26, 2019

Stevenson University's History Program recently made an overnight trip to Virginia.  Covering roughly 750 miles in two days, majors visited the Frontier Culture Museum (Staunton), Appomattox Court House (Appomattox), Jefferson's Poplar Forest (Lynchburg), and Monticello (Charlottesville).

Stevenson history majors pose beside their white, 15 passenger van in which they traveled overnight to Virginia.

CAPTION: Stevenson History majors pose beside our valiant 15 passenger van that carried us 750 miles from Maryland to Virginia and back. (Photo:  GT Johnston)

Each semester the history department tries to take an overnight trip to a different part of the Eastern Seaboard that is historically significant, has lots of things to do, and sounds like fun.  In the past, the history program has gone to Williamsburg, St Michaels, Charlottesville, Brandywine, Scranton, and the Hudson Valley.

Picture of Thomas Jefferson's summer home named

CAPTION: Jefferson's summer home at Poplar Forest near Lynchburg.  It was also his primary tobacco plantation. (Photo by G.T. Johnston)

Taking a trip during which you see Jefferson's summer home at Poplar Forest in the morning, and his more formal home at Monticello in the afternoon provides opportunities for comparison and contrast.  The two are owned and operated by different private organizations, so our students can compare different approaches to public history as well.

Timberlale Motel sign welcoming the Stevenson University History and Humanities Program.

CAPTION:  With a slight misspelling, the Timberlake Hotel welcomed us for a great night's rest.  Not a whole lot of frills, but great beds, warm rooms, hot water, clean linens, and a good breakfast.  Ya gotta luv it!!!  (Photo by G.T. Johnston)

Most of the majors loved their time at the Frontier Culture Museum in Staunton. In 1975, the idea arose for an expansive outdoor museum that would interpret the contributions made by settlers from England, Germany, Ireland, and West Africa on the Mid-Atlantic frontier in the 1700s. Today, the Museum operates as an agency of the Commonwealth of Virginia.

Two living historians tell what it was like to live on the frontier in the 1740s.

CAPTION: Two living historians interpret to visitors life on the frontier in the 1740s. He is using a drawknife to shape a pestle for his wife.  The pestle is held by a shave horse.  (Photo by G.T. Johnston)

The trip also provided opportunities for our majors to learn more about 18th century agronomy, especially with respect to tobacco.  Maryland and Virginia had tobacco as their primary cash crop during that era, so, if you are going to do history about those two colonies you had better know about tobacco.

Tobacco growing at Monticello.

CAPTION: Tobacco growing at Monticello with buds and flowers at the top of the plant.  (Photo by G.T. Johnston)

Monticello Tobacco Blossoms

CAPTION: These are what tobacco flowers look like at the top of the tobacco plant.  While pretty, these flowers would have been removed in a process called "topping."  Similarly, as new leaves began to grow on the stalks later in the season, they would be removed as well in a process called "suckering."  It was thought that by removing the plant's flowers and additional leaves it would center all of the plant's energy on developing its large original leaves.  These large leaves were prized, harvested, dried, packed in large barrels called hogsheads, and shipped to England (for Virginia tobacco) and Scotland (for Maryland tobacco) in order to to be sold. (Photo by G.T. Johnston)

Tobacco growing at the Frontier Culture Museum

CAPTION: Tobacco plants grown at the Frontier Culture Museum are grown each on their own mound as they would have been grown in the 18th century. (Photo by G.T. Johnston)

Why is the Stevenson University History Program so unique?  Because we do these kinds of trips at no additional cost to the students.  Because we spend lots of time together having fun, talking about history, and helping each other.  Because we get to know each other really well, not just as professor and student, but as individuals as well.  Because history must be experienced-- seen, tasted, smelled, and felt.  Because history just can't be learned in a classroom.

History majors at Monticello look out at vista overlooking Central Virginia.

CAPTION:  Nine of the twelve history majors that made the trip stand atop the mount upon which Monticello was built.  Great students, great scenery, and a great trip.  (Photo by G.T. Johnston)

The Stevenson University History Program recently visited with the the National Park Service Historic Trades Preservation Center to learn about their apprenticeship program in the traditional trades. 

Rodney Flora works as part of the National Park Service Traditional Trades training team by doing stone masonry.

Caption:  Rodney Flora practices traditional masdonry as part of the NPS Traditional Trades Apprenticeship Program (TTAP). (Photo by NPS)

The Traditional Trades Apprenticeship Program (TTAP) came about through the realization that the National Park Service needs workers with specialized skills to preserve and maintain the buildings and structures in our national parks and historic communities. To help meet this need, TTAP (pronounced "tee-tap") was created. 


TTAP apprevctices help stabilize a colonial building by using timbers to shore up its walls from the exterior.

CAPTION: NPS historic preservation team helps shore up the walls of a historic building by using exterior supports.  Part of the Traditional Trades Apprenticeship Program training. (Photo by NPS)

Located in in Frederick, Maryland, about an hour away from Stevenson University,  TTAP is unique within the nation. It provides hands-on training in historic preservation skills to people interested in pursuing a career in preservation with the federal government.  During an intensive six-month apprenticeship experience, TTAP passes onto the next generation the skills that will allow the important work of preserving our cultural heritage to be continued. During a time when many of these skills and trades are becoming obsolete, TTAP teaches the traditional trades in their modern form, trades that require much of the same materials, tools, ingenuity, skills, and hard work that have been required for generations and can never be replaced.

Stevenson History majors receive talk from an NPS historic preservation specialist at Monocacy Battlefield about his job.

CAPTION:  Stevenson History majors receive an orientation talk from Historic Preservation Training Center Senior Historical Architect, Tom Vitanza.  (Photo by G.T. Johnston)

Trips like these are what the Stevenson University history program is all about.  Yes, we do all of the standard classroom work in US history, but that is simply the work necessary to placing hands on experiences in the field within context.  It is our program's job to introduce you to these experiences.  It is your job to determine whether you would like to take advantage of those opportunities.

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