Yesterday, Stevenson’s Public History majors were transported into the past. After a short one hour drive, fourteen PHIST majors, faculty members, and friends disembarked at one of the East Coast’s largest WWII living history events. Each fall, living historians from around the US descend onto Eisenhower’s Farm, a National Park Service site adjacent to Gettysburg National Battlefield. There, they set up a WWII encampment. Hundreds of living historians spend the weekend in authentic uniforms and use authentic equipment to interpret the WWII era to thousands of visitors. Military forces from the US, Britain, Free France, Poland, Germany, and Canada were portrayed by the living historians this year. We were pleasantly surprised at the appreciable increase in the number of women portraying nurses, Red Cross volunteers, drivers, Rosies, and WASP pilots from that era.

Several US Army vehicles made popular in WWII–each owned by a private collector.

The purpose of the trip was to allow our majors the opportunity to engage with living historians–an increasingly popular area within public history–as well as encampment organizers and National Park service officials. Our majors learned that living historians purchase their own uniforms and equipment, and that they build the stories of the individuals they portray to the public based on research and personal experience.

Steph & Karolyn play “Which of these are not like the others?” Undergraduates recalling their Sesame Street experiences…..

Many of these individuals portray different characters from different periods throughout the year. It’s not uncommon for a WWII reenactor to also reenact in other units portraying individuals from the Civil War, the War of 1812, or the American Revolution.

Several living historians have invested in saving and interpreting large portions of a US Army evacuation hospital from WWII.

The National Cryptologic Museum, located adjacent to NSA at Fort Meade, provided visitors a rare opportunity to see, examine, and operate a German ENIGMA coding device from WWII. An encryption device invented by the Germans, the ENIGMA was one the prime intelligence targets for the Allies during the WWII. The first was captured by the Poles and delivered to the British for exploitation. Once reverse-engineered, the British were able to break the ENIGMA code and provide the Allies a method to read Germany’s top secret messages. Without a doubt the ENIGMA device was one of the major stories from WWII. Our majors learned that the National Cryptologic Museum is well within commuting distance of Baltimore and welcomes volunteers and interns.

The National Cryptologic Museum’s ENIGMA device.

A crucial part of Stevenson’s Public History major is our commitment to field experiences. Upon graduation our majors are hired by museums, battlefields, parks, archives, and area historical societies, the very institutions undertaking events like this WWII encampment. Our PHIST Program’s proximity to these events makes us unique among public history undergraduate programs in the United States. Our ability to learn both from the living historians who populated the event as well as the officials who ran the event is a hallmark of our program. When you complete our Stevenson PHIST program you know public history, you have engaged in public history, and you understand the options available for you as a PHIST graduate. Through events like this, you also have a network of contacts to whom you can reach out. Stevenson Public History isn’t a degree, it’s a program that helps you build a career.

We few, we happy few, we band of public historians.