Five things to ask (or not) a costumed interpreter at an historic site
I get a lot of questions at work, some of them thought provoking, some of them cringe-worthy. Here’s my list of 5 things to ask (or not) that interpreter you may run across at an historic site.
1. Do ask us about our background.
A lot of interpreters I am finding out, don’t have a background in history, and may not have even gone to school. My group of co-workers have varying backgrounds, from Music Education, to Sociology, to History, to Children’s Literature. Only two of us have obtained a Masters degree in History with a focus in public history, so it’s interesting the different answers you’ll get
Which brings me to the next question you should ask
2. Do ask us why we started interpreting.
I started interpreting because I wanted to be a behind the scene type of person who developed programming and lessons for school groups about slave life, but realized that in order to develop the programming, I need to know what it’s like to actually do the work. One of the best decisions I’ve ever made. I can see how slavery has affected all walks of life and the reactions, both positive and negative, I get from people make my job worth it.
If we happen to be demostrating something, please
3. Ask us what we are doing.
A lot of the time, visitors don’t want to be seen as a bother or don’t want to talk to the interpreter. I say talk on! Ask us what we’re doing, what we’re making, what material we are working with, etc. At my site, we don’t do things just for the visitor, we are constantly gardening, tending the cotton fields, sewing our own clothes by hand, cooking something that we will eat later, or as we like to call it, living life like they would have. Don’t be afraid to ask us the what, where, why and how of whatever it is we are doing at that moment. You may be surprised at the answers you get.
4. Tell us why you’re there.
We get many visitors from all over the world. My site is located way out in the country, about 30 minutes from the nearest interstate and about 15 miles from what most of us would call civilization. We want to know what in the world made you come all the way out there to see us.
Finally, the only thing that I ask you to refrain from asking is…
5. DO NOT ask us if we are hot/cold.
This by far is the most annoying question that we get from visitors. If it’s 96 degrees and the heat index is 110 and you are hot, chances are the interpreter in the shift, shortgown, and petticoat with knee high stockings and uncomfortable shoes is probably boiling as well. If you are cold because it’s 20 degrees, snow and ice is on the ground and the wind is blowing, chances are, even though we are sitting in front of a fire, we’re still cold. We are humans, who like most of you, enjoy the modern comforts of heat and air conditioning and hate inclimate weather. However, it is our job to interpret life as it was during whatever time period we are interpreting and I’m pretty sure they didn’t have air conditioning in 1820. So please do us a favor and don’t ask us if we are feeling the weather. We are, we just work very hard to block it out so that we can be as comfortable as possible.