Late in the fall semester of 2020, we made our first History field trip of the global pandemic--we visited the Historical Society of Baltimore County's agricultural tool collection. The students who went along on the trip were all taking the HIST 331: Material Culture class and had spent the semester exploring how material objects (things) reflect the history of the culture that made them. We had spent the better part of the semester studying objects from 1750-1850 that were part of the history of Baltimore County, in particular, tools. The Historical Society of Baltimore County, HSOBC, has a wonderful collection of farm tools from the 1800s, so we went over to check them out.
CAPTION: 19th Century woodworking tools on the walls and work tables in the Dickinson-Gorsuch Museum.
In the end there six of us in that intrepid party: James Keffer, HSOBC Executive Director; Jim Long, HSOBC Volunteer Coordinator, three students, and me. After receiving an overview of HSOBC's mission and operations, Jamie Keffer and Jim Long took us down to the Gorsuch Farm Museum located a short distance away from their Alms House headquarters. Located in a barn, the museum contains a variety of agricultural tools, a woodworking shop with period tools, and a variety of wagons, carriages, sleighs, and a single-cylinder engine that powering a rotary saw.
Caption: While drawings of tools were okay, being able to actually handle them was best.
For those of us who had studied a variety of axes, adzes, hatchets, bow saws, two-person cross cut saws, hammers, commanders, beetles, chisels, augers, and drills in a virtual setting all semester, being able to see, touch, and heft these were an absolute blast. Although a chilly, rainy day, we had plenty of space to spread out about 15 feet from one another while being masked. Lots of disinfecting wipes ensured no one touched items that had not been sanitized between uses.
Caption: On display are a number of devices used to transition raw produce into shelled, ground, or chopped products.
Thanks to a Baltimore Sun article by Bob Erlandson from 1993, we learned that it was named after Dr. Dickinson Gorsuch, a prominent veterinarian and cattle breeder who bequeathed the collection so people could learn about agricultural practices and animal husbandry. The barn is split into seven bays for exhibits ranging from pictures and documents illustrating farm life in the early years of the 20th century, to implements large and small, including a horse-drawn roller made from a log. In addition, there is a two-horse Rockaway carriage, a one-horse sleigh, several wagons, and simple hand planters. It also includes a restored steam-powered Holland Manufacturing Company portable sawmill.
This simple field trip was a huge statement by our History Program. It confirmed that we could make short, socially distanced, masked field trips successfully and without fear. In addition, it uncovered, in the form of HSOBC, a partner willing to help our students engage in hands on learning during the pandemic. That relationship continues as one of our 4th year majors, Mike van der Vossen, interns at HSOBC this spring semester. Thank you very much Jamie and Jim!!! You were great hosts.