History In Situ

Bringing Life to the Past

Small humans are interesting, full of energy, and sometimes, wholly untouched by notions of civilized behavior.

One way to make life easier for tour guides, docents, and interpreters is to provide some resources that make it easier for teachers or leaders bringing in a tour group to train their small humans in the civilized behaviors expected of them in public places: specifically, civilized behavior for historic sites.

The Rules for Time Travelers Activity Pack is a five-page PDF, perfect for sharing via link with teachers, club leaders, and parents prior to a visit to your historic site or event.

Written in positive language (with “Do” and “Be” concepts, rather than “Do Not”), this simple framework for courteous behavior makes it easy to communicate expectations through easy cross-discipline learning. The pack includes:

  • Letter-size enlargement of the Rules for Time Travelers
  • Nine simple in-class activities for pre- and post-visit learning
  • Printable bookmarks with the Rules for Time Travelers, four to a sheet
  • A Student Exploration information sheet that goes more in-depth with the Rules, and challenges each person to think about how they can be an excellent time traveler, in their own unique way
  • A Top Ten Facts activity sheet to help children share their research into notable people who illustrate the concepts in the Rules for Time Travelers

The easiest way to share this great resource is to link directly to it here. (Click on the highlighted text or on the image just to the left there.)

Direct links keep attribution clear, and allow your patrons and visitors to access the most updated version of our files. The Activity Pack may be photocopied and shared free of charge, for non-profit, educational use.




To download or print the pdf of this article, Click Through.

Social media is a fantastic way to market your historic site and develop a wider community of visitors who support and admire you. You’ll want to avoid these seven big “never” habits that will tank your credibility, annoy your readers, and detract from your historic focus.

Thou Shalt Not post or link to media-quiz “What Type of X Are You?” things. These are for 13-year-old girls, not historic sites. Don’t do it, even if it’s vaguely history-esque and someone’s mother-in-law thought it was perfect for the site’s page.

Instead, create quick trivia questions that directly relate to your site’s interpretive focus and time window, and get your visitors talking and eager to visit you again. “Which 19th century political party would you support? Visit us for Election Days and find out!” (be sure to add the link to your main website’s advertisement for that special event.

Thou Shalt Not post random encouraging quote memes or posters, even if they’re vaguely history-esque and someone’s cousin had it on their page. The same thing is on everyone’s page, and all of your visitors have seen it 200 times already today. And Yoda is fictional, not historical. No Yoda quotes.

Instead, draw interesting quotes, poignant phrases, or inspiring words from your site’s primary resources, “meme them up” yourself (with easily-read fonts over a background picture of a related aspect of your site), and share those. Don’t forget the link back to your main site, preferably to a page or post that expands on the source of the quote!

Thou Shalt Not post pictures of visitors standing or sitting posed in front of site stuff, smiling at the camera. These shots are boring, static, and do nothing to create a wider connection with your visiting public. Remember how painful it is to look at 300 pictures of your Great Aunt Enid standing in front of various buildings all over Mexico? It’s even more agonizing when it’s the same picture of 300 strangers in groups of two and three.

Instead, share artistic, well-composed photos of landscapes at your site, details captured during interpretive time, or dynamic pictures of visitors actively engaged with your interpreters, enjoying what the site offers. These shots are far more evocative. They’ll help your past visitors remember their good experience and want to return; they’ll encourage a new visitor to come and find their own magical moments. Encourage visitors to share their favorite site images, and tag themselves in photos that spark good memories for them. You’re more likely to have an image “go viral” and lead more visitors to your site.

Thou Shalt Not post iffy pictures. If the items in the picture are not accurate to history, don’t post them. If the interpreters are in poorly-done clothing you’ve been meaning to weed out of the costume closet, don’t post them. If they’re in modern sunglasses, holding a soda can, or have modern hair and visible tattoos, don’t post them. Look at every image with a critical eye: does it look like history? If not, don’t post it.

Instead, use those iffy images as a great tool to evaluate how well the site is doing with material culture and physical impressions. Start a list of things to upgrade, and get going on the most glaring aspects right away.

Thou Shalt Not spread yourself too thin. Use one main account for the site; you do not need, and cannot sustain interest in a separate account for the main site, the gift shop, each big event, and the Friends Of Site fundraising effort.

Instead, share informative, interesting posts on all aspects of your site and activities through the one main account. You’ll have far more to share when you concentrate it in one place, and that leads to better posting frequency, keeping your site where you want it to be: in front of your visitors, and inviting them to come visit.

Thou Shalt Not post the same message twice. When people get the same words in their update stream multiple times, they’ll assume you’ve been hacked, and that the posts are spam.

Instead, plan ahead with interesting updates on a regular cycle, with the occasional neat special posting here and there. If you need to share the same information again (such as a reminder for a deadline to register for a special program), be sure the wording is fresh and the reminder has a clear call to action.

Thou Shalt Not delete visitor comments without extremely good cause, even if they’re negative. “Extremely good cause” is for comments that contain spam links, profanity, or other things inappropriate for civilized company. With the transparency that being on-line encourages and almost requires, people will react negatively to “censorship” of complaints, particularly.

Instead, use negative comments as an opportunity to share a sincere “sorry” for a less-than-fantastic experience, and take that complaint under serious consideration: what are you going to do to make it better in the future? Let your social media friends know what you’re doing to do. If it’s a delicate situation, you can always respond with “So sorry to hear about your poor experience! Please email us at caring.person@MyHistorySite.com, we want to improve everyone’s experience.” So often, a simple “I hear your frustration, and I’m sorry” helps a lot. And those comments give tremendous insight into what you need to change for a better visitor experience.

With so many people using social media to share their favorite experiences, make it easy for your site’s fans to share your social media updates, and look forward to seeing the updates in their feeds!

How Much?Click through to download or print the pdf for How Much?

One thing that really sparks many people is being able to make monetary connections: how much does $X in 1850, or 1855, or 1860, or 1865 equal today? What’s the buying power? How does it relate to my life today?

These kinds of comparisons are more complex than you might think. So many factors go into determining how those relationships and connections work! Where are you in the country? What’s your skill base? What’s the consumer average for things like food, housing, or clothing? These variables are truly variable in modern life, and they’re not any less so in historic life.

But, here’s a handy little conversion formula and chart that can at least get us close:

The Consumer Price Index from the Federal Reserve Bank in Minneapolis

The data comparison chart allows us to calculate for any base historic year compared to any base modern year, and it’s a pretty fun bit of math! (And yes, you can do this math. I promise. If you’re doing a stack of conversions, you’ll get pretty fast at it! And I’ll let you use a calculator.)

The initial chart merges information from multiple sources. Logically, this either helps to cancel bias in each individual source, or radically compounds it, so we’re going to fall on the side of bias-cancellation, just for fun.

To make a conversion, you’ll use this formula:

Price Of Item Right Now = Historic Price x (Modern CPI / Historic CPI)

(CPI stands for Consumer Price Index)

Here’s the information from the chart, reduced to the bits and pieces we need for the formula, and the year range we deal with History In Situ:



































































 2014 CPI = 709.9

This formula lets us plug in information and get a decent estimation of quite a lot of things. For instance, if I make $40K a year now, what’s that equivalent to in 1858? As with all formulae, it’s a matter of putting in what I know, and solving for what I don’t know. Working along the formula, here’s what I know:

Price of Item Right Now: 40,000

Historic Price: Don’t Know!

2014 CPI: 709.9

1858 CPI: 26

In the formula, it looks like this:

Price Of Item Right Now = Historic Price x (Modern CPI / Historic CPI)

40,000 = ? x (709.9/26)

40,000 = ? x (27.30)

40,000/27.30 = ?

1465 = Historic Price

$1465 would be my 1858 equivalent salary to $40,000 in 2014. That breaks down to a weekly salary of $28 a week, which is quite a bit more than any woman was ever earning per week in 1858!

If I have information on the average weekly wage in my historic target year, I can quickly figure out an approximate modern dollar amount. If I am working with a store ledger showing prices for shoes in 1840, I can use the formula to figure out how much I’d be spending on them in 2014. I can compare that to what I do spend on shoes in 2014, and see how my buying power might hold up (or not) in the past.

We can also use prices from various geographical places in the same year, translate them into 2014 dollars, and get a sense of how economic value changes by region within the same time span, and how those relationships might “feel” if we were spending our own modern money on them.

If I were doing a load of conversions from 1858 (or any year) to modern dollars, that Modern CPI-divided-by-Historic CPI number gets used over and over, so I can very quickly get into a rhythm of figuring the formula.

Simple algebra gives us a handle on some very pertinent connections to history. Yes, there are always going to be flaws in the numbers used to create the CPI used in this table, but those flaws don’t detract from the overall utility of the comparisons.

Bring It To Life
Convert monetary values for many elements of your interpretive activities. How much does a horse cost in the past, translated into modern dollars? How much does a particular craftsman make per month, translated into modern dollars? How much did this house cost to build, and what does that equate in modern dollars? These kinds of concrete connections bring the past into very relevant form for visitors.

Convert monetary values and add to price notes in interpretive store stations.

Add historic dollar equivalent notes to price tags for reproduced items in the site gift shop.

Use converted and historic prices in a “What Can I Buy” activity station for visitors.

Use the chart as a tool to create math challenge sheets, helping students draw their own meaningful connections while using math in real life. Click through for a printable PDF worksheet set in the How Much printable article; share the link with educators for pre-visit and post-visit learning enrichment.

Use historic pricing for labor and goods, with the modern dollar “translations” to help draw connections and contrasts between modern and historic societal value on labor versus goods.

Read More About It
Find the full chart at http://www.minneapolisfed.org/community_education/teacher/calc/hist1800.cfm


Imagine yourself strolling down a quiet village lane on a fine early summer day.

A gentle breeze blows; dappled shade from the trees plays over your face as you walk. You can smell firewood in the sun, and the sweet fragrance of newly-cropped grasses in the pasture.

A farmhouse sits just off the lane, curtains riffling a bit; on the porch, there sits a young person, looking for all the world like a picture from the past. They are sitting with one leg tucked under them, and a large stoneware bowl in their lap, snapping beans.

Absorbed in their chore, they do not notice you, but on the breeze, you catch the satisfied hum of a tune they warble as they work… it is a perfect picture, a perfect “time travel” moment.

Until you realize the song they hum is vintage Metallica.

Music is a major component of modern life; with the proliferation of miniaturized music devices, it’s rare for an individual to lack a personal soundtrack! People relate to music; it sparks emotional responses, recalled memories, and shared connections with others.

As such, music has the potential to be an important interpretive tool for any living history setting. Music gives us an opportunity to connect with our senses, to amuse ourselves (a true “I”-pod!) and others, to communicate, to transmit culture and information, and to add dimension to the everyday life settings we portray.

Music was a major component of historic life! Sung and played at home, in the public square, in churches, in taverns, in theaters, in traveling shows; published in letters, diaries, magazines, and collections of music—the past was not silent. When the majority of our experience with the past has been through books and silent relics, we sometimes forget that the past was a noisy place, just as full of sound as our era.

The biggest difference: the past relied on live performance, rather than recorded and remastered music. Getting back into the live music sound touches something visceral for performers and listeners; we hear the full human experience, without tempering, correction, or re-dubbing. We get in touch with raw emotion in ways our MP3-tuned ears may never have heard before.

Many have desired to integrate music with living history. For quite some time, a main quandary has been “What do I sing? What do I play? What music did They internalize and perform?” 1880s music in 1860s settings is just as jarring as Metallica on the farmhouse porch, after all. It’s one thing to recognize the need for higher-quality musical resources in living history; it’s another to put accurate resources to complete use, and increase the opportunities for connection and interpretation.

Finding lyrics has often been easier than finding the “right” tunes. The mid-19th century practice of mixing and matching lyrics with different tune settings was helpful in allowing people to more readily perform new pieces (particularly singers without instrumentation), but it can be confusing and challenging for modern musicians accustomed to one lyric, one tune, and written notations!

Image copyright 2014 David Walker; used with permission.

Image © 2014 David Walker; used with permission.

I Like That Good Old Song,” the new anthology from John and Elaine Masciale, is an excellent tool in resolving our musical challenges, and using music in a more full, 19th century way for deeper interpretive connections (and just plain personal satisfaction, too!)

It is, as the Masciale’s describe it, essentially a “fake” book: basic chords and clef notations for the earliest or most common tune settings to each lyric, plus extended verses and variations where they can be documented. Any musician or vocalist will be able to get up to speed very quickly, and then layer in their own individual styling and flourishes for performance.

While we might often see lyric snippets in letters and other written sources, the Masciale’s have done the extra research needed to provide complete lyrics and documented tunes, set in keys that are easy to sing for most voices, or to play on most instruments. Modern musical formatting makes antique sounds accessible to the 21st century musician.

They’ve reproduced a variety of song styles; the 125 songs include “pop” tunes of the era, patriotic and sentimental favorites, ballads, nonsense songs, spirituals, minstrel songs, and common hymns, making the book an easily adapted resource to suit a wide variety of personal preferences, customizing music to the individual impression needs.

The song anthology is presented piece upon piece without interruption; further expansion books will include the research background and commentary on the songs, which will be a fantastic tool for public education and personal context.

It’s easy to see the Masciales are musicians and performers, themselves; where songs require a two-page spread to include all the notes and lyrics, the layout opens flat, with no page-turning. These small touches make the book easy to use in practice and performance. Ever mindful of the need to be unobtrusive in living history settings, they even give suggestions for hiding the modern lay-flat spine, just in case you didn’t have time to memorize your chosen music before the event.

Should you have a personal copy? Yes!

“I Like That Good Old Song” is ideal for vocalists, for guitar and other stringed instruments, for piano, and any instrument that fits the era. If you’re a member of a vocal or other performing group, plan to grab a copy for each person. Using just this one volume, I can envision living history enthusiasts all across the country assembling performances that add to the magic moments we all crave:

  • A group of dressed-out youths raising their voices in patriotic tunes;
  • People of all ages delighting to rollicking minstrel show numbers;
  • Church services with added dimension through beloved and fervent hymns;
  • Quiet sentimental ballads carried on the evening breeze;
  • Rousing political songs spicing up a good candidate debate or rally;
  • Children practicing their stick drill while marching to popular soldiering tunes….

Just imagine the depth we can add to living history, for ourselves and for our visitors, just by adding that vital component: music!

You’ll want to add “I Like That Good Old Song” to your wish list today, so you can be singing or playing along next week.

Purchase “I Like that Good Old Song” direct from the publisher at tincremona.com.

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