St. Augustine is advertising that they need living historians in dress to mill about in the old city during the weekends through September. They will pay 50 bucks a day.
That sounds like a good request, but I don't know who can afford it. With that wage, it is almost minimum wage, or $6.25 and hour for an eight hour day.
Only local historical interpreters can afford to do this, since it does not cover the cost of local lodging or go very far for gas and meals.
It is almost an insult. This is not a job that anyone can do. In fact, few are able. They are looking for a Williamsburg setting, where you can talk to historical interpreters as if you are back in colonial times. This is called first person interpretation, and I only know of very few historical interpreters who can do this, or do it well.
A reasonable wage for historical interpreters is $250 a day. And that is the ones who know how to do it, and can do first person, or are knowledgeable. Movies have paid about $150 a day for extras. And the extras do not say anything.
Most places will not pay this. So I do very few events these days. At one time I had a gig every weekend. It doesn't bother me, because I just don't have the time anymore to do another one each weekend, especially what gas costs now. So I end up doing the local events that I have always supported, like local parks and museums. They don't always have a budget to pay, but I will do it when a friend asks.
So here is why historical interpreters can demand $250 a day:
They are experts in history. They have researched enough history about their time period to qualify for a doctorate. They can talk about a wide range of characters and historical issues that have long passed. In fact, I know several historical interpreters who know more than college professors on the subject. Professors are generalists who are taught to look at things through previous doctoral thesis. Interpreters may spend years researching just one thing. Before he died, Dr. John Mahon was giving a talk, and pointed to my friend Earl, saying that he (Earl) is more of an expert on the 2SW than himself (Dr. Mahon.) Quite a complement from the father of 2nd Seminole War books in our lifetime.
Historical interpreters make their own outfits. Or they buy them from vendors who specifically sell period clothing. But most of the good interpreters I know have made their outfits. They have researched their clothing. And this clothing is expensive. Each interpreter is wearing thousands of dollars worth of outfit. One joke is that we take our most expensive clothes, and wear it to sleep in the mud and in the rain. And we enjoy it.
So how many other jobs do you know that will pay minimum wage, for people who have knowledge of a doctorate, be able to go into first person character, wear clothing worth thousands of dollars that they made by hand, and stand out in the hot sun all day?
you nailed that one right on!
i, too, got the emailing concerning that, and being desperate for the cash, i seriously thought about it. then i thought again - putting up with all the crowds, the sarcastic remarks, being treated like "chuckles the clown" and basically doing not much more than posing for pictures all day does not sound like fun to me. at the full events, we get to talk to other people who have the same cares, people who, while they may not get directly involved, at least appreciate the time, effort, and purpose behind what we do.
you are right on about the amount of learning involved! the amount of study that goes into learning another culture than the one you were raised in to the point that others believe that you were born into it takes time and care. for instance:
to do my surveyor's camp properly, i am not just studying the tools and maps of the time period i have chosen to focus on, i am also researching the newspaper headlines of the day. if i am going to be first person, i have to be able to discuss the important topics on the common person's mind at the time. this means being aware of the political climate of the world at that time, the styles of dress and manners, the technology of the time - which can actually get just as complicated as today's, who the celebrities were, the motivations of the profession and someone who might follow it, ... it just goes on. you have to, in effect, create a whole separate person/identity that must stand up to any and all questions that might be asked.
and as for the outfits, just wearing them around a town like that can put a tremendous amount of wear and tear on them. i have started the day in saint augustine one time with a brand spanking new pair of est-elv-pikv (shoes in mvskoke-commonly called moccasins) at the start of the day, and by night fall, the bottoms were completely worn off from simply walking on the concrete/asphalt/coquina that makes up the historical part of town. (i now cheat a bit in St. A - i keep a separate pair for those days with tougher soles). this means a couple of hours of work for me, as center-seam "mocasins" such as were worn here in Florida cannot be bought right off a shelf. if you have someone make them for you, it can be a lot of money. and even doing the work for myself, the leather to make a pair is going to run me around $30 to $50.
i have done the living history for a living before for a theme park near my home. they paid well, and the surroundings were beautiful, but the spot i was stationed was very lonely, had no restrooms or real shelter when summer storms rolled in, and was rather isolated - not good in an emergency. i hired on thinking it would be the perfect job, then was bored to tears most of the time, and worried i was going to get struck by lightening the rest of the time. i got a spider bite once while there, and i had to hike to where my vehicle was hidden, then drive to the nearest outpost to the first aid station, only to find out they were not allowed to do more than clean the bite. lucky i was not allergic!
anywho, yes, living history is an underappreciated, misunderstood job, that takes a lot of work and a love for the whole kit and kaboodle. but i'll keep doing it! even if only locally, like you said.
I had the problem of moccasins wearing down on hard surfaces too. So in the city situation, I switch to brogan boots. At least they are still period correct, but even those wear down.
Westville is not easy on them either, where the ground is hard packed clay that is really abrasive and can also wear down mocs.
At least doing living history at an event like Dade Battle, people expect us to be there and don't have the stupid remarks.
yeah, i know that i should expect things like that being out in public like that, but the ignorance of some people just gets the better of me. actually, it isn't really the ignorance - i can understand not having an interest in the subject, and so not having studied up or not being aware of things. but the comments that show lack of thought! some of the comments and questions show such lack of forethought that i often wonder how those people can survive getting out of bed in the morning. they must take everything and anything they see and hear without question, without consideration, even for themselves! the kind of people who just follow programming regardless. the kind who will allow anything to be done so long as their comfort is assured. not freedom, comfort. i'd rather be free...
On July 16th, 2007 02:38 am (UTC), (Anonymous) commented:
I am a living historian who primarily interprets the late 19th Century in Indian Territory [present-day Oklahoma]. Currently, I am working on my master's thesis as a requirement for my masters in museum studies at the University of Oklahoma. I would appreciate anyone contacting me who has had living history experience and who would be willing to participate in a survey/interview that will be used in completing my thesis. Your assistance is much appreciated. Please email me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org
Diron L. Ahlquist
Oklahoma City, OK