Living History Archives - Eva Varga

August 25, 2015

I love history! My favorite books are all historical fiction. Had I not pursued a degree in science – I likely would have considered a career in history.

History, as a school subject, is often overlooked in the elementary years (with the exception of a few isolated unit studies). As a homeschool mom, I am blessed to be able to immerse my children in a comprehensive and chronological study of history.

When we first started homeschooling, we had the opportunity to volunteer at the High Desert Museum in Bend, Oregon as living history interpreters. It was an amazing experience living and homeschooling in 1880.

In addition to reading about history, initially in the four volume series by Susan Wise Bauer, Story of the World and now in her series for older readers, The History of the Ancient World, we enjoy a variety of research projects, timelines, hands-on activities, and field trips around the world. One of our favorite annual experiences is a living wax museum.

Create a Living History Day

I have written previously about our experiences in Bringing History to Life and the Collision of Art & Literary History. We have had a lot of fun over the years and have learned a great deal not just about the historical characters we have researched, but also about public speaking, goal setting, and historical re-enactments.

In all the years we have been engaged in these long-term history projects, I have had a little whisper in my ear to take it to the next level through participation in National History Day. National History Day began in April 1974 – an idea of history professor David Van Tassel, who was worried about the decline of the humanities in general and history in particular in America’s schools.

Van Tassel was particularly distressed by the boring rote memorization he saw in most history classrooms.  He wanted to reinvigorate the teaching and learning of history.

Today, National History Day contests are taking place in every state. Providing a learning adventure that teaches critical thinking, writing and research skills and boosts performance across all subjects – not just history.

Meet Historical Figures at a Living History Event
Can you identify the important historical figures portrayed here? (Answers revealed at the end of the post)

Every year National History Day frames students’ research within a historical theme. The theme is chosen for the broad application to world, national, or state history and its relevance to ancient history or to the more recent past. This year’s theme is Exploration, Encounter, Exchange in History.

The theme provides an opportunity for students to push past the antiquated view of history as mere facts and dates. It encourages students to use critical thinking skills to dive into historical content and thereby develop perspective and understanding.

We will be participating for in the National History Day contest for the first time this academic year. I’ll be coordinating the contest for the Southern Oregon coast and sharing our progress along the way.

I want to encourage you to join us. The NHD website provides an incredible array of lesson materials and curriculum to help you get started.


1. Gudrid Thorbjarnardotter (mother to first Viking child born in the Americas), 2. Ansel Adams, 3. Chief Joseph 4. Irena Sendler 5. Amelia Earhart 5. Mærsk McKinney Møller

October 28, 2014

My children and I love historical reenactments and living history. Not only does it literally bring history to life – it captures our emotions and connects us to the stories of individuals who have made a difference in the lives of others.

In my post last week, Traveling Through Time, I shared with you a little snippet of our experience at a recent Civil War reenactment. Living history volunteers worked together to recreate aspects of a Civil War, sharing with us tales of battles, living conditions, and hardships they faced. We loved singing songs from the era and learning about their pastimes.

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.


Pictured here are my children dressed as Snowshoe Thompson and Marie Curie and their friends dressed as Anne Sullivan and Ole Kirk Christiansen in 2013.

Each year, I coordinate a living history day for our local homeschool community.  The event is always a highlight of our homeschool year and we look forward to “talking with the historical people we meet”.

Living history is an art form whereby performers connect art and literary history.

In my post, Bringing History to Life, I share a video of the presentations my children did as Irena Sendler and Arnold Mærsk Mc-Kinney Møller earlier this year. Sadly, the video I captured of their presentations the preceding year was very poor so I am unable to share that presentation with you.

My kids have just begun to think about the characters they wish to research for their presentation in 2015. I won’t reveal just yet who they have selected, but I will give you a hint. 2014 marks the 100th anniversary of the man who rediscovered the lost art of the guara, a kind of aboriginal center-board used by the indians of Peru and Ecuador for navigation.

I encourage you to consider hosting a living history event of your own. In my post, Bringing History to Life, I share guidelines and tips for success.

If you have taken part in living history performances or have enjoyed local reenactments, I would love to hear about it. Share your story in the comments! 🙂



October 24, 2014

Last month, we had the wonderful opportunity to participate in a field trip coordinated by a friend of mine to a local Civil War reenactment.

Organized in 1991, Reenactors of the American Civil War (RACW) is a non-profit living history organization based in Northern California.  One of their goals is to stimulate interest in the historical significance of the period in our history termed “the War Between the States”.

Comprised of Confederate, Federal and civilian representatives, the group recreated the drama and realities of life during this pivotal time in American history — portraying life as it was for members of both armies in the camps, on campaigns, and in battle.


We were able to watch history come to life with reenactors wearing the clothing of the period, using the speech and mannerisms of the time, and playing and singing the tunes of the 1860s!

Much to our delight (as we had been enduring a drought) it was raining fairly heavy. Many families I discovered were canceling plans to join us due to the rain. The brave men and women who fought in the war and continue to serve and protect us today, did/do so under all extremes of weather.

I did not let the rain keep us indoors. Forging ahead on this field trip gave us a better appreciation of the hardships they endured/endure.

To learn more about the Reenactors of the American Civil War, visit their website. Here you can also find a printable guide for students to help them engage with the volunteers and learn more about the Civil War era.

November 21, 20132

Every year, the little village of Willingtown comes to life as the annual market faire welcomes talented and exotic performers from throughout the globe to their streets and stages.  The entertainment is non stop all day.  The streets and stages boast music and dance from traditional English Country, to Celtic and Gypsy Tribal.  Swashbuckling sword fighters draw a crowd and maidens weave flowers for hair adornments. Foolishness and fun rule the day as the streets fill with revelry.

I have wanted to attend a Renaissance Faire for a long time but something has always prevented me. When I learned of one in Hollister, California (near San Francisco), I made plans to be there.  We attended during Fantasy Weekend – so we were not surprised to see people dressed with fairy wings and even a faun roaming the streets of Willingtown. It was a fabulous weekend excursion.

Northern California Renaissance Faire

Recognized as one of the 10 Best Renaissance Faires by the Travel Channel.  Patrons are welcome and encouraged to dress in Renaissance style costuming to enhance their experience.  We had strongly considered this but just didn’t have the time to put together our own costume and though costumes are available for rent, we chose to be more of a passive onlooker.  Buddy wore his Indiana Jones attire and drew a lot of attention.  On several occasions we heard other patrons remark, “He must be thinking, ‘This needs to be in a museum!”

Renaissance Faire Entertainment

There were several stages whereby patrons could enjoy a variety of performances.  The first performance we observed was A Midsummer Night’s Fantasy, whereby the imagination of Shakespeare was brought to life by his Faerie Queen, Titania, dancing gracefully through the sky with her mischievous mate, Oberon. Utilizing hoops and ribbons this graceful demonstration of aerial ballet was a delight.

Our favorite performer, however, was Broon. He had us laughing all day with his dry wit and stage antics.  A regular headliner on the national faire circuit, Broon is a crowd favorite – we know why.  Buddy was so impressed by his skill with the bullwhip that upon our return home, he searched for videos on YouTube and memorized his act.

Renaissance Faire Costumes

With his new fascination for all things medieval, Buddy was drawn to the knights in their armor.  I loved the authenticity and diversity of the costumes.  There were, of course, those who took this as an opportunity to dress more lewdly than one would think was appropriate for the times but overall, the patrons and performers were consistently in character.  They loved talking about their costumes – many of whom had spent many hours painstakingly constructing them piece by piece.

Renaissance Faire Handcrafts

We spent nearly two hours in the handcraft tent.  Here patrons had the opportunity to try out a variety of crafts and arts typical of the Renaissance.  Sweetie chose leather and made a personalized bookmark.  Buddy – not surprisingly – chose chain maile. He had been trying to teach himself via videos he had found online but we could never quite get the pattern correct.  Having someone experienced show him was just what he needed.

It was a wonderful weekend. We had such a great time.  We look forward to attending again next year.  Hopefully, in costume.

March 9, 2013

While in San Francisco recently, DH surprised us with an impromptu visit to the Lady Washington and Hawaiian Chieftain, both of which had come into port just the night before.  Both ships were open for dockside tours similar to an open house. We were free to explore at  our own pace. The crew members, dressed in 18th century clothing, were positioned at points of interest on the vessel to answer  our questions and tell us more about the boats and their lives living aboard.

The Lady Washington and Hawaiian Chieftain both call Gray’s Harbor home.  Launched on the 7th of March in 1989, the Lady Washington was built in Aberdeen, Washington by Grays Harbor Historical Seaport Authority. The new Lady Washington is a full-scale reproduction of the original Lady Washington, which sailed during the Revolutionary War.  The topsail ketch Hawaiian Chieftain is a replica of a typical European merchant trader of the turn of the nineteenth century. Her hull shape and rigging are similar to those of Spanish explorers’ ships used in the expeditions of the late 18th century along the Washington, Oregon, and California coasts.  It was purchased by the Grays Harbor Historical Seaport Authority in 2005.

Our little adventurer was all ears when he discovered that the Hawaiian Chieftain had been used in the filming of Pirates of the Caribbean (as the Interceptor). When the crew talked about the summer camp opportunities onboard these ships, he was ready to toss his satchel below deck and get busy rigging the sails.  The most intriguing of the camps is the “Expedition Voyages Family/Youth Camp” whereby adventurous families will sail the beautiful San Juan Islands of Washington State, following in the wake of maritime explorers George Vancouver, Robert Gray, and Charles Wilkes.

It was a fun little side trip before we had to head northward for home.  Before we disembarked, Buddy used his own money to purchase a few pieces of eight.  He now carries them in his satchel, along with his other treasures.  Upon visiting the library a few weeks later, he picked out an audio book by Scott O’Dell, The Cruise of the Arctic Star.  I foresee a nautical career.

December 10, 2011

Each year in early December, Whiskeytown National Recreation Area and Old Shasta State Historic Park team up to offer numerous holiday activities for families. Ever intrigued by living history opportunities, we were eager to take part.

 Our first stop was at the historic Camden Tower House, built in 1852, the Camden House is the oldest house in Shasta county.  Here, the kids cooperated together to create a Christmas wreath of evergreens. We then toured the inside of the house (though it is furnished minimally in only two rooms).  It was fun to imagine living here in the late 1800s and looking out upon the orchards.  Upstairs, we enjoyed listening to a Christmas story read aloud by a volunteer in modern clothing.

Returning outdoors, the kids selected a old-style picture postcard and used a feather quill and ink to write a seasonal greeting to a family.  We had tried to make our own feather quills some time ago … the directions had stated to bury the feather in an aluminum pan of hot sand.  We did so … but apparently the sand was too hot and the feathers blistered, warped, and burned.  The kiddos were thereby very excited to give this a go.

We then made our way to Old Shasta where we were able to walk along the row of old, nearly-ruined brick buildings.  Once the “Queen City” of California’s northern mining district, these ruins and some of the nearby roads, cottages, and cemeteries are all silent today.  Volunteers dressed in period attire introduced the kids to numerous children’s games – Hoop & Stick, Game of Graces, and Jacob’s Ladder.  Sweetie asked if perhaps we could volunteer here, “I miss dressing up and pretending I lived in 1880.”  I promised I would inquire, but sadly the park is one of several state parks slated to close in May.

We then walked down to the Blacksmith shop where kids could try their hand at forging a piece of iron into a wall hook.  Sadly, we arrived late in the day and the last visitor they would have time to tutor was just getting started.  Buddy was fascinated … as I’m sure any young boy would be … and he begged to come back another day.

We were able to dip candles, however.  As there weren’t many children at this late hour, they were even able to get back in line a second time.  Each of the kiddos brought home two hand-dipped candles.

Everyone had a great time and it was a fun way to kick off the holidays.  We hope that funding or alternatives can be found to keep the museum accessible.