Bringing History to Life: Living History Presentations

I have always been fascinated by history and have enjoyed interacting with volunteers at reenactments across the country – in Boston, Williamsburg, and closer to home at the Lewis & Clark National Historic Park in Astoria.  When we first started homeschooling, we even volunteered at the High Desert Museum as living history interpreters. I was delighted to have the opportunity to volunteer with my children in historical costume.

Living Museum

Living history is an activity that incorporates historical tools, activities and dress into an interactive presentation that seeks to give observers and participants a sense of stepping back in time.  A year ago, I initiated a Living History / Wax Museum day for our local homeschool community.  Coordinating the event is easy – I simply posted a notice (with the guidelines described below) and reserved a room at the library for the day of the presentations.

Guidelines for Coordinating a Living History Museum

  • Participants in the Living Wax Museum were instructed to choose a famous historical person to research, prepare a research poster display, and develop a 2-3 minute speech (in first-person) that summarizes the life of the famous historical person.
  • The selected historical person must be someone who has done something significant in history, or has made a positive contribution to society.  The famous person can be someone who is still alive.
  • Participants create a costume, dress as the chosen person, and then assume the identity of the historical figure.
  • Participants dress in costume to portray their subject.  This costume should accurately convey information about the subject and the time period in which they lived.
  • Participants should create a display or backdrop of at least 22” x 28”.  The famous person’s name must be prominently displayed in large letters.  A minimum of 4 photographs should be included.  A timeline, map, and notable quotes are also highly suggested.  
  • Participants need NOT memorize their speech but are encouraged to do so.  The use of note cards is permitted.

The number of students who have taken part varies each year and many come only to observe the presentations.  Either way, it is a wonderful afternoon – providing the participants with experiences in research, writing, public speaking, and costume design.  Audience members are introduced to historical persons and time periods in a fun and innovative way.

In 2013, my daughter selected Marie Curie, a Polish and naturalized-French physicist and chemist who conducted pioneering research on radioactivity.  This year, she chose Irena Sendler, a Polish nurse/social worker who served in the Polish Underground during World War II, and as head of children’s section of Żegota, an underground resistance organization in German-occupied Warsaw.

Last year, my son brought Snowshoe Thompson to life, the Norwegian-American immigrant and early resident of the Sierra Nevada region. He is considered the father of California skiing. This year, he introduced us to Arnold Mærsk Mc-Kinney Møller, the late Danish shipping magnate.


If you interested in learning more about our living history experiences, I encourage you to check out Homeschooling in 1880

About Eva Varga

Eva is passionate about education. She has extensive experience in both formal and informal settings. She presently homeschools her two young children, teaches professional development courses through the Heritage Institute, and writes a middle level secular science curriculum called Science Logic. In addition to her work in education, she is an athlete, competing in Masters swimming events and marathons. In her spare time she enjoys reading, traveling, learning new languages, and above all spending time with her family. ♥