March 8, 2013

History for All Seasons: Activities to Take You From Winter to Spring

  • By: Priya Chhaya

New York Hall of Science. Credit: bondidwhat, flickr
New York Hall of Science

February is an admirable month. Long past the tinkle of holiday cheer, it encourages gatherings near the hearth, warm drinks in hand, with vistas of hibernating landscapes and stillness. Yet it can feel hum-drum, too; long past the eagerness of a New Year, it becomes a revolving door of sleep, work, eat, sleep.

Thankfully, my February wasn’t completely devoid of historical inspiration:

  • I made it through the end of season 3 of "Downton Abbey," providing much-needed fodder for the Edwardian-era mystery party I’m writing for April. At these parties, a group of friends with various roles act out the scripted mystery and drop clues and/or red herrings along the way, while the person playing the detective tries to solve it all. While these types of parties date back to the Victorian era, the first boxed versions appear to have started in the 1980s. Our group has moved away from the versions you can buy at your local toy store to writing our own -- and I’m the next author at bat.
  • I played “spot the interesting/historic building” while watching various television shows. For instance, during a recent "White Collar" episode I found myself curious about the building where a final stand-off was going down -- specifically, what the story was behind its intriguing latticework. As I came to learn, the structure was built for the 1964 World’s Fair in Queens to house the New York Hall of Science. Overall, "White Collar" is really good about using New York City, its buildings, spaces, and history as part of the plot. (Of course, it’s not the only show that uses iconic or interesting structures as a setting on television. Can you name a few?)
  • I started reading about Americans in Paris for my next big trip in April. For a week I’ll be heading over the Atlantic to eat bread, cheese, and crepes while walking along the Champs-Elysees. My reading last month included brushing up on my history of France (including its colonial-era history) so that when I go to New Orleans for the National Main Streets Conference the week after, I’ll be prepared to embrace the connections.

Cherry Blossom Festival visitors. Credit: brmurray, flickr
Cherry Blossom Festival visitors

But March. March brings with it warmer weather, increasing the potential for excursions near and far. For example:

  • Road trip! It’s been a few years since I’ve headed back to Williamsburg (Alma Mater Hail!), so that’s at the top of my “go beyond the city limits” list. Not only is this where I went to undergrad -- at the second oldest university in the country -- but it is also my go-to place to see living history. Colonial Williamsburg was the former capitol of Virginia, and now is an entirely reconstructed colonial town (with a fascinating history in its own right). Recently, I thought I’d like to go back and see, as a historian, how the town interprets the lives of the enslaved.
  • Take a stroll by the cherry blossoms. Every spring, Washington, D.C. commemorates the 1912 gift of 3,000 cherry trees from Mayor Yukio Ozaki of Tokyo to the city. I can’t wait to meander through this year’s blossoms, now in their 101st year, scheduled to peak at the end of the month.
  • Re-visit the fond and familiar. I enjoy historic gardens, and March affords the option of visiting some of my favorite house museums -- Oatlands in Leesburg, Va. (one of our historic sites) or Greenspring Gardens (Fairfax County, Va.). The best part: looking for a glimpse of flowers peeking through a fresh layer of mulch.

I know I’m not the only one relishing the emergence of spring. What are some of your favorite historical stops in your area during the blooming season?

While her day job is the associate director of content at the National Trust for Historic Preservation, Priya spends other waking moments musing, writing, and learning about how the public engages and embraces history.


The National Trust's African American Cultural Heritage Action Fund has awarded $3 million in grants to 40 places preserving Black history.

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