Friday, September 30, 2022

Alena Pirok's "The Spirit of Colonial Williamsburg"

Alena Pirok is assistant professor of history at Georgia Southern University.

She applied the Page 99 Test to her new book, The Spirit of Colonial Williamsburg: Ghosts and Interpreting the Recreated Past, reported the following:
Page 99 is the end of the fourth chapter’s fourth section. It does not encapsulate the whole book, but it does illustrate a key point. On this page I am interpreting data, connecting the dots for readers, and describing how mid-twentieth century Colonial Williamsburg struggled to explain itself to guests without employing a rhetoric of ghosts and hauntings. The first line reads; “These evocative descriptions were meant to conjure the past and to train people how to take time and enjoy all the city’s observable elements.”

This page sits within the chapter titled “A Magnificent Stage Setting” that tells the story of how Colonial Williamsburg’s leadership sought to better explain the restoration to guests. The sections preceding the fourth talk about the series of consultants that Colonial Williamsburg hired to investigate why guests did not seem enthused with the site. The chapter’s title comes from a consultant’s assessment that touring the restoration felt like being on set for some great show that never began. The fourth section is where I introduce the efforts to combat that feeling. I focus on celebrated early museum studies scholar Edward Alexander and his innovative “mood approach” to interpreting the restoration. I explain the power behind Alexander’s interpretive theory, framing it as rather phantasmagorical but ultimately flawed due to its concentration requirements. Page 99 concludes the section exploring how despite his inventive efforts, twentieth-century distractions continued to make it difficult for guests to connect with the restored eighteenth-century world. In total, page 99 is a good example of the book’s intellectual, as well as narrative, contribution, but does not stand alone.

This page, and the larger chapter, represent the important middle bit of the book’s story. Missing from this excerpt is the larger discussion of how ghost stories inspired the restoration of Williamsburg, Virginia in the early twenty century, how the institution recreated the emotional connection that ghost stories once offered thorough first-person interpreters in the late twentieth century, and what Colonial Williamsburg’s twenty-first-century ghost tours and Halloween events reveal about the institution and the nation’s more recent past.
Follow Alena Pirok on Twitter.

--Marshal Zeringue