Historian Melanie Stringer came to visit the Granite Falls Care Center and present her first-person living history program on Tuesday. She literally “becomes” Laura Ingalls Wilder, and speaks with the crowd in character, who are free to ask anything about her or the time period.
What makes her presentation unique is she has placed herself at a certain point in the timeline of Wilder’s life. She commonly gets questions about her future self’s writing, but doesn’t break character to talk about her future accomplishments. The Care Center residents had a variety of questions, which led to interesting stories and discussions of the time period. Those attending learned all they wanted to know and more about corsets.
Stringer went through some biographical history of Wilder and her family as they traveled around the U.S. in the mid-to-late 1800s. She explained the lucrative but difficult gamble of homesteading. There were stories about the struggle of surviving harsh winters when snow prevented supply trains from visiting, and clouds of grasshoppers ravaged fields of crops in unpredictable waves.
Stringer jokingly reported when asked why she stuck to a certain timeframe, she said that she didn’t want to portray a 60-year-old woman. The bigger point is that her presentational style gives the audience a chance to explore history in a much more engaging way.
Typically history is taught in lectures. If the students are lucky, they might get some third person stories. But Stringer goes to obsessive lengths to know everything about what was going on at the time. She’s gradually moved the presentation later in time, from 1890 to 1894 to currently 1898. She has to track what is going on with each family member at each point in time, as well as with the people in each area, and on a broader scale, like who is the president and how many states there are at the time. She mentioned that the Little House on the Prairie show created a lot of misconceptions she has to overcome, but has also helped grow interest.
You can follow Melanie Stringer on Facebook or Twitter @MeetLIW