This summer, I was a Nau Center intern at the Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park, where I received training in historical interpretation. The park includes the Fredericksburg, Chancellorsville, Wilderness, and Spotsylvania Civil War battlefields and two other historical sites: the Stonewall Jackson Death Site and Chatham Manor. As a result, interpretation at the park covers a wide range of time periods and topics, so I learned how to interpret in a variety of contexts. I primarily worked at the Fredericksburg battlefield and Chatham Manor, helping welcome visitors to the park, providing information about what the park offers, and answering their questions.
At Fredericksburg, I was able to give walking tours of the battlefield after watching park rangers do so first. In my tours, I tried to craft out of the Battle of Fredericksburg a story that visitors could easily follow and understand, leaving them with an accurate picture of the battle’s causes and consequences. I loved being able to tell these stories, both to visitors who shared my passion for history and to those who did not have as much prior knowledge about the Civil War, and who I got to watch become more interested over the course of the tour. In addition, I designed short (15 minute) programs to supplement the general walking tours. These highlighted specific aspects of the battles or Fredericksburg’s history, such as the U.S. Regular Army’s actions at the Wilderness or the 1805 Chatham slave rebellion.
This internship has made me realize that there are significant blind spots in the way that Americans often think about our history. Many visitors to the park mentally separate the events of the Civil War from the society that came before it. They are also not used to viewing history through the eyes of individual people, especially when it comes to slavery. It was both challenging and fulfilling to present American history to visitors in ways that they might not have considered before, and to see their perspective change as we spoke. Regardless of what path I end up taking while pursuing a career in history, my time as a Nau Center intern this summer has provided irreplaceable experiences that I will assuredly draw on for many years to come.
Image: Chatham Manor