Living history plays big role at Museum

Jul 01, 2013

History isn’t just memories or words in a book. At the New Mexico Farm & Ranch Heritage Museum, it often lives and breathes.

Living history is an important part of everything the museum does when it comes to events and activities.

“Living history is all about immersing the visitor or participant into that era or moment in time,” said Scott Green, who leads the museum’s education department.

The museum began implementing living history into its programs about 10 years ago when Dr. Jon Hunner and New Mexico State University’s Public History Program students began doing time travel activities with middle school students at the museum. The museum’s first living history event was Time Travel by Lantern Light, which was held in December each year and featured guided evening tours to trek into the past to visit various characters in New Mexico history.

In 2008, that event was moved to late October and renamed Ghosts of the Past. Indoor and outdoor tours are offered during two evenings that bring visitors face to face with historical characters, portrayed by museum staff members or volunteers who have researched their character. Some of the characters, like Pat Garrett, are famous, while others might be one of the actor’s ancestors.

“We’re not just telling them about history,” said Green. “We are pulling them in and helping them imagine what it was like 100 or 200 years ago. It’s a human experience, learning how they worked, what they ate.”

Living history was added to the museum’s largest annual event – Cowboy Days – four years ago, featuring a homestead camp the first year, followed by wedding in 2010, a birthday party in 2011, a statehood celebration in 2012, and a funeral last spring. Rather than watching a performance, visitors were invited to interact with the characters.

Living history also has been added to the annual Ice Cream Sunday event (coming up on July 21 this year). The theme will be a 1957 soda fountain shop.

“We’ve expanded it for Ice Cream Sunday where it will be a full-blown time travel experience this year,” said Green.

A Night at the Museum is the museum’s newest living history event (held each May) and features characters who are part of the museum’s exhibits, and Stories of Holidays Past is held each December in the museum’s theater.

The museum also uses living history as an outreach activity at schools and events, on tours to the museum, and is continuing NMSU’s time travel program where university students learn this skill by researching characters and interacting with younger students who tour the museum and step back in time.

The museum also offers a living history camp each summer for children ages 9 to 14. Several of these children have moved on to take part in Ghosts of the Past and the Cowboy Days living history activities.

“We had our first camp about six years ago and now we have a mix of young people involved and they’re working with some of the older folks who are volunteers,” said Green.

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For information contact Craig Massey at craig.massey@state.nm.us.