Living History Student Tours

Living history is a great tool for learning on a student travel tour. There are living history programs available in several of the major markets where student travel tours are conducted, including Washington DC, Atlanta, Boston, Williamsburg and Gettysburg. Living history programs are not limited to major urban areas or destinations. These unique programs thrive everywhere, in different forms.

What is Living History?

Living history is usually comprised of several different elements. Interpreters re-enact history through costuming, creation of an authentic historical setting, stories and narratives that originate from that era, and props, including gardening, farming or animals. All of this helps to create an imaginary historical landscape. Student travel groups love living history programs because it situates them in that moment in time when the historical event occurred.

For the teacher or school administrator considering adding living history to a tour, it is a great way to give the student an active learning experience. It is easy to include a living history destination with some advanced planning and a budget to visit the site. Following are some of my recommendations for some of the best living history programs in the East. This list is by no means definitive. Although I am certain there are some worthwhile sites I have left out, this will provide a basic overview of living history available in some of the major destinations I am most familiar with at this time.


Mount Vernon Near Washington D.C.

The estate of George Washington is impressive in many respects. The living history programs at Mount Vernon are a wonderful way for students to really enter the time period.

Washington, a superior horseman, was known for breaking his own horses and introducing the donkey into American farming, as well as breeding them at Mount Vernon.

There’s an authentic wash house, coach house, smokehouse, storehouse, greenhouse, slaves quarters and more. The plantation, which used to span 8,000 acres and encompass five farms, was vast. A character interpreter of Martha Washington is a part time resident of Mount Vernon, when she’s not traveling the United States and educating people about 18th Century lifestyle.

Tullie Smith Farm, Atlanta History Center

Student travel groups will want to visit an authentic yeoman’s farm just Northwest of Atlanta, Georgia, if they are traveling to that area. The Tullie Smith Farm was owned by a farmer named Robert Smith from Rutherford County, North Carolina. Smith migrated to Georgia, and began a small farm. He managed nearly 800 acres of land with 11 slaves. Smith raised cattle and hogs and used the land for agricultural purposes.

Student travel groups will learn that not all southern plantation homes were large scale. This home is a rare example of a “plantation plain” style of home. Costumed interpreters lead student tour groups through the Tullie Smith farm and capture the essence of the time period, circa 1840, with narratives that help recreate the era.

Boston Mass., Old Sturbridge Village

Recreating New England rural living from 1790-1840, Old Sturbridge Village is the largest living history museum in the Northeast. The buildings, moved from towns across New England, include a bank, a country store, a law office, sawmill, gristmill, meetinghouses and more. Students tour the buildings while costumed living history interpreters tell the story of the period, and help students examine the rural life of Early American Settlers more closely. This 200-acre museum is a short drive from Boston, Massachusetts. There is a great deal for student travel groups to see in Old Sturbridge Village so plan on spending at least a half-day and possibly a full day exploring.

Plimouth Plantation, Plymouth Massachusetts

Student travel groups visiting Plimouth Plantation will find a wealth of living history from different perspectives. Students can meet the Wampanoag tribe, who continuously inhabited the land for over a thousand years. Student travelers can learn about the Mayflower’s journey across the ocean, and what it was like to live in a 17th century colonial settlement. Other living history elements to the tour are a craft center, where students will meet potters, tailors, basket makers and furniture makers. At the Nye barn, students will have the chance to see rare, older breeds of livestock, and watch 17th Century farmers perform their daily tasks.

Williamsburg Virginia

When John D. Rockefeller bought the town of Williamsburg in the 1920s he did so to preserve a unique period in American history and with an eye towards restoring it to its former opulence. The peak of Williamsburg’s popularity was during the 1800s, when Williamsburg served as the capital of the colony of Virginia. The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation provides costumed character interpreters in many of the major historic buildings such as the capital, the jail, and the historic homes and pubs. Giving a student tour group the chance to visit one of the largest living history museums in the world is quite a thrill. Student groups on tour may walk anywhere in or near downtown Williamsburg and immediately notice that many people on the street are in costume, and have a story to tell. The interpreters also act as guides of some historic sites, or are available to answer questions about their lifestyle during the 18th Century as students visit various historic sites.

Gettysburg Pennsylvania, Dobbin House Tavern

Meet Abe Lincoln or Robert E. Lee. Once built and owned by Alexander Dobbin in 1776, Dobbin House Tavern is located in an historic home which was also a colonial style restaurant. Restored according to the period, Dobbin House Tavern creates the right ambiance along with excellent food. Good company awaits the student tour group dining at Dobbin House Tavern while they are in Gettysburg. Costumed interpreters Abe Lincoln or Robert E. Lee drop in to chat with student travelers after their meal, and reminisce with stories from their historical time periods. A visit to Dobbin House Tavern is a fun way for student tour groups to learn what life was like in during colonial and revolutionary times. Living history programs stimulate the mind and the imagination of students learning about different periods in American history.