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Creating Living History at the Old State House Museum

Old State House Museum - Wednesday, September 06, 2017

Creating Living History at the Old State House Museum


The Old State House Museum (OSH) plays a vital role in preserving, sharing, and celebrating the history of Arkansas and its people. One of the most unique ways we do this is through living history interpreters. Living history engages people of all ages to experience how people might have talked, worked, played, dressed and lived in the past, giving visitors interactive snapshots of history.


It might seem like playing dress-up, but our characters are far from imaginary. OSH takes great care to present people and scenes that are historically accurate. From activities to clothing, the living history characters are completely authentic. Each character has been carefully researched using primary sources like archived newspapers and documents found primarily at the Arkansas State Archives, the Butler Center and the University of Arkansas archives in Fayetteville. Secondary sources are sometimes used for inspiration and additional links, like tracking state connections on Ancestry.com and checking military records on Fold3.com.


Characters are chosen based on imminent exhibits, programs or timely historical events. We use different topics for different age groups and choose our living history characters based on how their lives reflect those topics.


Some topics provide a lot of information to work with, but other topics leave our historians lacking detailed and accurate records. In this case, we create a “composite character.” A composite character is fictional and not based on one actual person who lived in our past. Instead, they are based on what was typical of many people who actually lived in Arkansas during that time.


To actually become a character, our interpreters love to identify with these historical figures. Leah Lambert, living history coordinator at OSH, explains, “To think like that person, you need to expose yourself to what they would be exposed to – books, music, etc. You must immerse yourself in anything you can get your hands on that would be contemporary to them.”


Every detail for living history characters is exact. We pay attention to fabrics, stitching, silhouettes – everything. Foundation garments, like corsets, are vital and help create the accurate stride, shape and appearance.


Georganne Sisco, OSH education director, enjoys seeing living history characters connect visitors to the real stories from Arkansas’s past. She says, “Often times I feel people want to talk to the characters but don’t know how. We love to do roleplaying where guests can interact freely and be equipped with hands-on learning experiences that expand their understanding of our shared history in Arkansas.”