Vance Birthplace : Prologue

I interned at the Vance Birthplace Thursday from 10:00 to 2:00 and Saturday from 11:00 to 4:00. The environment is a relaxed one, and my primary job so far has been to familiarize myself with the site, read some information on giving tours and interpretation, and man the front desk to greet visitors. While this may seem strange for one who has lived most of their life in Madison County, I knew little of Zeb Vance. So I did not get to experience, as many people have, the distinct sorrow and anger of learning he was no moral hero of the age, but simply another corrupt politician willing to send hundreds of African-Americans to their deaths, albeit a talented one. That is one of the reasons I have been able to enjoy learning the ins and outs of Vance’s time as governor and early life, I had very few preconceptions. Preconceptions, I find, are one of the scholar’s greatest foes, regardless of discipline, as they can lead one to ruin while they believe themselves on the path to enlightenment. The information that I have been reading focuses a great deal upon the interaction between the scholars at a historic site, and its visitors. There is of course a practical purpose to it, as it prepares an employee or intern to deal with the public, but there is also a metaphysical side to it that makes one think about the different ways in which we as humans interact with one another on a subconscious level, and how that subconscious interaction affects the information that they share. Thinking so much about how the historic  interpreter must accommodate visitors, maked me nostalgic for a time when visitors  were of secondary importance at museums, which makes me much like the rest of the world, looking backward to a time I never experienced. As a historian, such feelings should make me feel ashamed. Greetings are terrifying, plain and simple, but I am already getting accustomed to them. Earlier today, I greeted a man and wife, who were both excited to be at the Vance Birthplace. The man claimed descent from Vance, and has been in the process of trying to prove or disprove this descent from Governor Vance. He seemed quite proud of his lineage, and the couple was ready to do the guided tour of the main building once they had looked through the exhibit and out buildings in the self-guided tour. After looking through  the exhibit the “descendent” seemed rather unhappy, and left rasping “Jesus Christ!” under his breath. The couple did not stay for the guided tour of the main house. I believe that he had bought the heroic tales of Governor Vance, Champion of the Union and North Carolina, destroyer of slavery and racial injustice, and forgot that Vance was another human, drowning in the darkness of his own soul as most humans do. Kimberly Floyd, the site manager and my mentor, is a phenomenal individual. She is able to make the internship experience into one that is far less frightening than it would be for someone of my demeanor, and has enough experience in the field to offer good advice for my concerns. She has a Bachelor’s in History, and a Master degree in Public History and Museum Studies, and has worked at the Mordecai Historic Park, Stagville Historic Site, and a few others.

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