How Do I Be Come A Living History Tour Guide?

SandiD

Private
Joined
Aug 18, 2021
Location
Somewhere in the Hudson Valley
Because my partner and I had both taught history (I also taught geography at US Military Academy), we both have tons of artifacts for the periods in which we are interested. As a result, we didn't have to submit outlines, lists of research materials, etc. to our fulltime supervisors.

While we have a lot of freedom to plan our own program, doing a program in an environment that is constantly changing can be challenging. We cover 120 miles from Croton-on-Hudson to Albany, running alongside the Hudson River. One thing that is important in the program with which I am involved is flexibility and being able to "think on the fly." Often while discussing one thing someone will notice something out of the train window and come up with a question. Sometimes we can tie it into the discussion at hand, other times we have to give a brief explanation and refer them to the Hudson Valley National Heritage area for additional information, and sometimes the partner who is not presenting will be doing an internet search on the specific question if it is something out of our areas of expertise but related to the discussion.

If the weather is not cooperative and we are discussing the geography or specific sites usually visible from the train, we have be able to adapt. It's hard to talk about things you cannot see. I always have maps, occasionally a book, and graphic materials such as reproduction historic photographs or broadsides with me. I can be pass those around if viewing out the widow is not adequate. Because we often have a multigenerational, and often multi-national audience, I try to tailor my presentation to be a somewhat interactive program - Q&A, Trivia, kids activities like coloring pages or maze puzzles. On one Veterans Day program, the audience ended up in a sing-along of Over There! when we were at the WWI era portion. I've got some Civil War era music lined up for this years presentation.

We have an university internship program in tourism with which we work with. Interns are assigned a topic, have to research it, and choose appropriate artifacts (from the stash that the program has) to use in their presentation. As one of the experienced volunteers, it is my job to grade on accuracy, presentation style, how well they can adapt to the sometimes changing conditions on the train, their ability to "connect" with their audience, etc.

The bottom line is being a good tour guide/living historian hinges on how much time, effort, and in some instances money you want to dedicate. It makes no difference whether you do it as a profession or as a hobby.
 

General Casey

First Sergeant
Joined
Jan 26, 2016
Location
Massachusetts
I guess it really depends on where you're interested in working. I was a historic site tour guide at a historic house museum for several years. I basically started as a volunteer, went through a week or 2 of training (shadowing other tour guides, reading and research). I also led walking tours in Boston. Some cities require tour guides to be licensed to conduct public tours.

Honestly, I would look around at local historic sites near you and visit. Talk to the tour guides and staff about what it takes to be a tour guide.
 

RedRover

Corporal
Joined
Dec 16, 2019
Hello everyone, I was wondering how do I become a certified living history tour guide ? I am very interested in becoming one but don't know how . Can anyone help me ?

Consider starting at a park/battlefield/fort/farm, etc. as a living history volunteer. Most sites have their own guidelines regarding clothing/tools, etc., if not actual scripts regarding what to tell the public. As a park or facility volunteer no qualification is particularly necessary other than a cooperative enthusiasm in most cases.

With online resources like google books, hathi trust, etc. it can be easy to delve into a hug cache of first-hand and period writings. What is not so easy off-hand perhaps, is converting ones knowledge into brief presentations combining discussion, narration, and action to interest the audience or inspire an interest in further study. Save the mass of stored information for any Q&A.

I recommend Jay Anderson's book, "Time Machines" as a good start. It is mercifully brief and entertaining..

Amazon.com: Anderson, Jay, Time Machines...

Here is a listing of opportunities (jobs or internships) at living history sites... You can read the job requirements at different sites, and qualifications...
Assn. for Living History, Farm & Agricultural Museums; Jobs postings...

J. Marshall,
Hernando, FL.
 

SandiD

Private
Joined
Aug 18, 2021
Location
Somewhere in the Hudson Valley
I guess it really depends on where you're interested in working. I was a historic site tour guide at a historic house museum for several years. I basically started as a volunteer, went through a week or 2 of training (shadowing other tour guides, reading and research). I also led walking tours in Boston. Some cities require tour guides to be licensed to conduct public tours.

Honestly, I would look around at local historic sites near you and visit. Talk to the tour guides and staff about what it takes to be a tour guide.
Good advice to start local. I started doing small living history presentations locally and then jumped into NPS volunteering once I was comfortable dealing with changing audiences
 

Lubliner

Captain
Forum Host
Joined
Nov 27, 2018
Location
Chattanooga, Tennessee
My experience of one of these Williamsburg "guides" was not only disappointing to me but actually maddening. At the reconstructed Virginia Colonial Capitol building we were given a talk by what I presume was one such volunteer, clad in his buckle shoes, stockings, brocade suit, etc. From his neck up, however, things were a bit different... Short-cropped hair in a contemporary cut (no wig), modern glasses, and close-cropped BEARD!

If they made the effort to authentically costume the presenter WHY IN H*LL did he not look the part? Things would've been fine, had they only cut off his head - not a bad idea as far as I was concerned! Other touches were just as jarring: obviously FAKE "buckle shoes" on lesser park personnel like waiters; and we were seated in the tavern where we ate lunch right next to the swinging service door and its view of the modern, spotless kitchen with its tile, steel tables, etc., etc. While on the streets among the throngs of Japanese and other knobby-kneed tourists one could look in any direction and see autos being driven only a block or so away. What a joke!
I am sorry your experience was not to your liking, but it did make me laugh, not for your inconvenience, but for your description of the gentleman 'guide' that spoke. I am not aware of volunteers, but he definitely doesn't deserve pay! It is difficult to block out all that traffic from parts of Williamsburg due to its heavy tourism industry. I think the thoroughfare in St. Augustine is a bit less hectic, and more rewarding, to me anyway. After the first few Sunday 'indulgences' when the rest of our family would greet Mom at work and take a special tour, it became one of those ho-hum events. But still the good memories of it outshine the bad, even though a bit of boredom does prevail.
Lubliner.
 

OldSarge79

Sergeant
Joined
Jul 12, 2017
Location
Pisgah Forest, North Carolina
Honestly, I would look around at local historic sites near you and visit.
I absolutely agree. I dreamed for years about being a tour guide at a prominent historic site, like a battlefield. Just a pie in the sky dream. Then, several years ago, I contacted the local historical society to see if they might accept me as a tour guide at the Allison-Deaver House, a 206 year old house here with a Civil War related murder on the porch.
As fate would have it, I had been given a tour of the house while on vacation here 40 years ago, by the last resident, Mrs. Smith, after we knocked on the door and asked. She died just a few years later.
Anyway, the historical society snapped me up, especially when they found out that I had met Mrs. Smith, and I have been giving tours for several years.

Training consisted of studying some written summaries of the house's history, and going along on tours for a couple of days. Not too demanding, but because I was so interested in the house, I learned everything quickly and was giving tours in no-time. I can't tell you how much I enjoy it, and visitors seem to as well. I really love that old house.

We are having a shortage of guides, though. Most are aging and have health issues, which is probably a common problem in other areas. So, maybe it would best to start local, get some experience, help your local site and have a good time.
 
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