Historical Research at Colonial Williamsburg
Colonial Williamsburg employs professional historians throughout the organization.
Many are interpreters and tradesmen. Others practice specialties as curators,
archaeologists, architectural historians, librarians, filmmakers, and school
curriculum planners. Those who staff the Department of Training and Historical Research are
the Foundation’s navigators. Periodically they chart new directions for Colonial
Williamsburg. Three times since 1977 they have organized the preparation of an
intellectual master plan, a roadmap for the institution’s educators, scholars,
collectors, and fundraisers. In between the historians keep the enterprise on course
by participating with the Foundation’s other historians in inventing and evaluating
programs and exhibitions, training interpreters, and reviewing manuscripts, screenplays,
and study guides.
And also by researching and writing. Museum historians must be prepared
to navigate terrae incognitae, the unknown pasts that await discovery
when public interest turns curious about subjects that scholars have
not yet explored. So the Department of Training and Historical Research employs
a staff of working historians—researchers, readers, and ultimately writers of history.
Over the past 25 years the department’s published scholarship has contributed to
three broad themes in early American history, each essential to the
presentation of everyday life on the streets of Williamsburg—slaves
and slavery, the consumer revolution, and the growth and development of towns and
cities in Britain’s American colonies. That work is presented to outside scholars in
academic journals and monographs. It makes its way to the general public in
presentations based on the Foundation’s master plan, Becoming Americans;
Our Struggle To Be Both Free and Equal.