©2006 North Carolina Museum of History
Office of Archives and History, N.C. Department of Cultural Resources
Careers for Historians: Living
By Beth Crist
If time travel were possible, you could go back to earlier periods and experience
what life was like. You could watch as people went about their daily work, see
how they dressed, and find out what they believed and enjoyed. But until
someone invents a time machine, being a living history interpreter offers the next
best method of time travel. Living history interpreters give us a glimpse into
Most living history interpreters work at sites that re-create particular places and
time periods. Living history sites include museums, historic houses, farms,
villages, factories, and battlefields. Visitors leave the present behind when they
enter these sites. They see houses with period furnishings, people in reproduction
clothing, and horse-drawn farm equipment.
Some living history interpreters demonstrate traditional trades such as
blacksmithing and shoe making. Others act as tour guides, explaining to visitors
what life was like in the past. Still others simulate daily routines—working,
shopping, sewing and doing laundry by hand, cooking, farming, chatting with
fellow townspeople (other living history interpreters), and going to school.
Interpreters also act in historical plays and take part in reenactments of events
such as wartime battles.
No matter what roles living history interpreters play, they must first research the
time period to learn what everyday life was like. To portray famous historical
figures like Thomas Jefferson or people known through historical records,
interpreters gather facts from biographies, letters, diaries, and other sources.
This information helps them develop realistic characters.
Some living history interpreters have bachelor’s or master’s degrees in history,
while others have degrees in education, acting, archaeology, museum studies,
anthropology, or othe