By Chris Colón
When I first became interested in history, I had realized that the reason I was so interested was the way in which my father would teach me about history. He made a great effort to teach me as if he were telling me a story. It was that storytelling aspect that made me want to study history in college. How can I make a career out of doing exactly what my father did with me, with other people?
One summer my family and I visited Gettysburg, PA. Upon our arrival at the national park, we stopped at the visitor center. Here we were given information on how to visit the park; Where to start, what to look at, where to go next. This was extremely helpful and allowed for a more through experience of the park. As we began to venture out on our own in the park, we passed many different groups of visitors; School field trips, bus tours, and large families.
Later on we came up to a small group of folks listening to a battlefield tour guide. We decided to stop and listen as well. Before we knew it we were following this group and their tour guide across the entire park. What struck me the most was the level of detail in which the tour guide would use to help visitors better understand the information. What was also quite inspiring was how this tour guide would have the group look at the landscape and encourage them to use their own imagination to see a visual representation of the information they were being given.
We reached the area on Big Round Top where the 20th Maine held their position during the 3rd day of the battle, and at that moment I realized what a pivotal role this battlefield tour guide had played in my experience at the park. When we arrived the tour guide gave us the historical context of the area we were standing in. “This was the end of the line”, he said. The tour guide told us of how important what happened there was to the overall outcome of the battle. Afterwards the tour guide told us to walk around and look at the landscape.
It was not only the fact of where my feet were standing that made for such an amazing experience. This tour guide had brought the entire environment to life for me through his ability to tell the story. I cannot say I would have had just as good of an experience if we were to have just hiked up there ourselves. The story was what allowed me to connect with the history. I was no longer listening to the information, I was feeling it and seeing it.
Experiencing what a good and dedicated battlefield tour guide can do for visitors was eye opening. My experience at the Gettysburg National Military Park was part of the reason I chose to study history. After my visit I was inspired to pursue a career in public history and hope to one day give someone the chance to experience history in the same way I did that day.