How is history taught at heritage sites and museums in North America? What can the history of museums and heritage sites tell us about how they operate today? And how do other resources, like historically-based films, allow us to access history at home? These are all questions explored on Historia Nostra, a new YouTube channel about North American history.
Historia Nostra (which means “Our History”) critically explores how North American history is taught at museums and heritage sites, on film, and in other less conventional ways. Museums and historic sites provide, for many North Americans, our first exposure to history and offer tangible connections to the past. Historically based films and other such media also have significant sway in how history is popularly understood. These formative experiences have important, lasting impacts on how we as a society interact with history, but on an individual level museums and other historically based ephemera are often marketed as fun first rather than educational. Presenting history as entertainment can support good histories, but it can also compromise educational value. Historia Nostra investigates how these experiences with history operate in practice through three sub-series: “Experiencing History,” “Doing History,” and “The Frontier on Film.”
Join host, Erin Isaac, as she visits heritage sites across North America—including well known historic sites like Jamestown, VA and lesser known examples like Kejimkujik, NS—in our “Experiencing History” series. This series considers differences between approaches to living history in sites like Plimoth Patuxet, MA and sites based primarily on built heritage like Historic Huguenot Street in New Paltz, NY.
In “Doing History,” Erin chats with experts about how nonwritten records, like board games, recipes, and textiles, can be used to teach history, and how historians use these sources to compose historical narratives.
“The Frontier on Film” reflects on historically based films’ value as teaching tools or instances where they do more harm than good.
In the first episode, Erin visits Jamestown Settlement, a living history museum in Williamsburg, Virginia. Jamestown, the first permanent English settlement in North America, was established in 1607 and is popularly considered the “birthplace” of America. Jamestown Settlement seeks to recreate life in early Virginia for visitors and features three living history exhibits—a reconstruction of James Fort, reconstructions of the ships in which the English came to North America, and a recreated Powhatan Village.
The experience at Jamestown Settlement is fun for the whole family but raises some concern. Erin questions whether the museum achieves its goal to give visitors an understanding of early Virginian history, settlement, and development, and of the relationship between European and Indigenous communities. Particularly, Jamestown Settlement’s inclusion of Indigenous history sanitizes the violent exchanges between settlers and local communities.
This episode begins by giving a brief history of Jamestown Settlement, walks the viewer through the museum’s living history exhibits , and features an interview with Fallon Burner, an Indigenous historian from the Jamestown area.
This is the first video of our mini-series about the early history of Virginia. Upcoming episodes include Erin’s visit to Historic Jamestowne, her review of the Pocahontas film The New World, and her attempt to cook a Powhatan-inspired Three Sisters soup.
This channel is written and hosted by Erin Isaac (MA, University of New Brunswick, 2020). Erin is doing a PhD in history at Western University. Her research interests include the history of colonialism, history of religion, history of the environment, Indigenous history, and history of race in North America. Suggestions or collaboration pitches should be directed to firstname.lastname@example.org.