What is living history?
It is giving participants a first-hand view of history. We are appealing to our students' imaginations to bring a period of time to life for them. The goal is to speak, think, and act like someone who traveled on or was associated with the Oregon Trail.
Why is it important to our program?
Bringing history to life makes it fun and allows students to feel more association with the past than they normally would through books or other educational materials. Using a living history approach on the Oregon Trail program adds educational value to everything we do.
Who are we?
Finding a story or two to tell as a "person from history‟ during key times is a great way to make our teaching come alive. Each staff member and student leader at the Oregon Trail Overnight may also choose to create a character that fits into the Oregon Trail history. It is best to use personal experience as much as possible, and remain yourself in terms of personality, attitudes, sex, race, etc. Just create a "you" living in the past. Think of how your own past can reflect the past in the historical time period we are dealing with. How would you apply that to who you are and the job you do on the Trail?
Where are we on the Oregon Trail?
Camp Kiwanis as a site is a special place to teach about Oregon History, because it really sits right in the history of the Trail. The Barlow Road was the non-water route that many numbers of pioneers used to traverse the Cascade mountain range. The road that Camp Kiwanis sits on is the old Mt Hood Highway, which was built very closely following the Barlow Road route. Therefore we can see ourselves as living and working right on the Oregon Trail. Camp Kiwanis is just another stop where pioneers can rest up and repair equipment after a rough traverse of Laurel Hill, get supplies, and or prepare for the last month of the trek to the Willamette Valley.
The Kuratli site is located toward End of the Oregon Trail 15 miles East of Oregon City and just 2 miles from the Philip Foster Farm which was a final destination of the Barlow Road. This is where many pioneers after the 6-month long ordeal of traveling across the country finally received their reward, 640 acres of pristine Oregon land. The first land was granted in this area in 1856. At Kuratli we relive the early days in the Willamette Valley. What do they do now that they have made it? Building cabins, obtaining their land, working and dealing with native plants and animals, and forming the new Oregon territory. Welcome to the end of the Oregon Trail.
How do you become a character from history?
The most ideal way to become someone from a historical time period is to know as much about that time period as possible. Reading books, looking through timelines, understanding politics, social structures, laws, and major events will help in the effort to construct a character. All of this is not always available in the time given to prepare. We have busy lives today. Adding a life from the past to that can become stressful or frustrating. The point is to do our best to find out the basics we need to know. Perhaps a little research will bring on a desire to learn more.
When does First Person Living History work at Oregon Trail?
We can actually become a character from history as we work with the classes who come to the Oregon Trail Overnight. Some times that specifically accommodate us in this goal are:
• Welcoming students to the site, giving tours
• Field Study Introductions
• Selected Field Study Activities
• Evening Social Time, including:
o The Virginia Reel
• Field Day
Teaching times and transition times often prove to be less effective for first person characterization. We can add tidbits here and there, but it can become confusing for students and ourselves. The point is to try our best to immerse the students in the feeling of being a pioneer from the time, but not to feel like we are being deceitful. We also want to avoid the frustration that can come when students pester with questions about our current-day tools, like radios, buses, running water, etc.
In such a short amount of time, it will be difficult to learn enough about the Oregon Trail to always be in character and always have answers to students‟ questions. It‟s better to say “I‟m not sure what the answer is, but I can try and find out for you” than to give false information. Above all, have fun, speak clearly, and think about what you would have been like 150 years ago entering the Willamette Valley! Enthusiasm will take you far in living history!