Messages through History

Having spent the last two days in Colonial Williamsburg, Virginia I realized the big picture messages that are portrayed to visitors, both intentional and unintentional, which I didn’t realize coming here as a child or with my family.  Two of the messages that really stood out to me were how easy we truly have it in the twentieth century and how little Colonial Williamsburg acknowledges and educates about slavery during the eighteenth century.

Life was truly harder during the eighteenth century, during the time of Colonial Williamsburg.  Throughout this time people had to work for everything they wanted and owned.  If they wanted a spoon they didn’t just drive to Walmart and buy one, they went to a silversmith, gave them silver, and had to wait for it to be made by hand.  If they wanted food they usually had to make it themselves and only eat what they could make themselves, they didn’t just go to the McDonald’s drive through and order a Big Mac.  When the colonies first settled in the New World they had a hard time getting use to the new land and learning how to fend for themselves.  The movie The New World that we watched showed how the colonists really struggled to get use to the natives and make it through the tough, harsh winters.  Nowadays, we talk about how awful the winter is and how cold it is and that we want it to end but we don’t experience anything close to what the colonists did.  I couldn’t imagine having to eat leather and my clothing because there was no food.  We truly do take things for granted and don’t realize how easy industrialization and the advancement of technology really did make our lives. But at the same time they didn’t show the worst parts about life at home as someone in the middle class.  They portrayed how difficult some of the trades are very well, but they did not portray how awful life at home could be.  Dr. Seidel mentioned in his lecture how small the houses these people lived in were and how you could hear everything everyone did and said until the homes became larger.  However, there weren’t any of these homes that could be toured and no one I spoke to really talked about what they did at home or what it was like at home.

The more unintentional message that I got out of my experience here in Williamsburg was how underrepresented the slaves are.  We learned that the slaves made up over 50% of the population in Colonial Williamsburg, yet I didn’t see more than two African American interpreters during the two days I spent wandering around the town.  When I would ask the tradesman about what their interactions with the slaves and African Americans would be like and how often they would occur, they would stare at me with a blank stare as if they had never even thought about the slaves that had been there during the time.  I expected the slaves to be represented and at least to be seen and talked about more than just where the slave quarters were.  I even went to the exhibit for the African American church that was founded in 1781, according to the tour guide in the Bruton Parrish Church, but there was no one there to answer any questions I had and it was tucked away as if they didn’t care if anyone went there or learned about the African American culture.

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