Back in the Dark Ages, when I was in graduate school and we wrote our papers on our computers by candle light, I came to the final part of the Ph.D. program.
I had survived two years of course work, passed the language exam (translated 400 words from Spanish into English), and passed the required three comprehensive exams. All that remained was to write the dissertation.
Although I wanted to write about the Sunday school libraries of the 1800s, my advisor talked me out of it because someone else was writing about the same thing across the river in New York City. It’s a scholarly thing. You don’t write about something someone else is researching. Seriously. You’re free to mess with them once they’ve completed their work and it’s out there to read. But until then… no competition.
He suggested I write about something in the 1900s. Since I have worked in the religious education field, I ended up choosing the Vacation Bible School movement, the start of which dates from the late 1800s but gains its strength in the early 1900s.
My advisor also suggested that I work in a specific geographical location rather than trying to research Vacation Bible School throughout the entire country. First, he emphasized, it would take forever. Second, he was pretty sure I would go mad with such a broad research base.
Neither wishing to drag the process out to my dying day nor go insane, I decided to research the area between Richmond Virginia down through the peninsula to Norfolk. It made sense. I had friends who lived in Williamsburg and so had a base to help me navigate a new location. Plus, archival material was available at the Randolph-Macon College Library in Ashland, just up the road from Richmond as well as at the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg.
And so, in the summer of 1996, I packed up all my worldly belongings, gathered a few friends willing to help and have a little vacation at the same time, and off we went.
Once I got settled, I needed to find a part-time job, as my only other “income” was a student loan for one more year. And so, logically, I got a position in Colonial Williamsburg.
No. I was not a costumed interpreter – although that would have been cool. Instead, because I had worked previously as a secretary/administrative assistant and can type up a storm, I became a secretary with the organization.
My job was to type information about guests’ experiences into Excel or Access (can’t remember which). It was boring, but it was a paycheck. The things I remember best were sitting in the little office right next to the King’s Arms Tavern and, as I input data into the computer, listening to horse-drawn carriages clomp by, roosters crowing, and the occasional bleating of sheep.
Seriously, where else could you be in such laid-back environment?
Plus, the best guest comment I found was from a guy whose review of Chowning’s Tavern consisted of two words, “Great wenches!”
I laughed myself silly that day.
Anyway, I fell in love with Williamsburg and go back there every few years.
So, guess what? This week, I will be back in Colonial Williamsburg for a little vacation. And, because I love history and want to encourage people to visit historical locations, you will be going with me!
Later, gators. See you in the 18th century.
Janet Stafford, Squeaking Pips Founder