Tuesday, April 15, 2014

7 Questions with Author and Archivist Valerie Frey

Valerie J. Frey is the former Manuscript Archivist for the Georgia Historical Society and former Education Coordinator for the Georgia Archives.  She is now a writer and has co-authored several regional books related to Georgia history.  In 2015, the University of Georgia Press will publish her first national title, Teacakes & Squirrel Mulligan:  Preserving Family Recipes.

How and/or when did you get you hooked on history? 
I got sucked into history one delicious story at a time.  My paternal grandparents hailed from a tiny cotton town in south-central Arkansas.  Both had roots there since before the Civil War and both loved to tell stories.  Driving around the county with them was like moving through a storybook as my grandparents spun tales about what happened in various locations.  Because I knew how our family was rooted in events such as the Civil War, boll weevil infestation, Great Depression, etc., it was easy and pleasurable to imagine life in the past as a whole, to care about history as a whole.

What role does history play or has it played in your personal life? 
I was always interested in history, but my passion for it increased greatly when my parents died towards the end of my college years.  Genealogy, local history, and personal history had much deeper meaning.  Your roots are your roots no matter what the present and future bring. 

How is/How was history a part of your professional life/career? 
My interest in genealogy and local history steered me towards a master’s thesis based on historic folk art during studies in Art Education.  That experience led me to fall in love with folklore, oral history, and historical research.  Soon I moved on to get a second master’s in Information Science so that I could become an archivist.  Later on, I turned back to my education background, tying together graduate school know-how to create archives-related educational programs for the public as well as to aid teachers with classroom needs for primary documents.

Why is studying/knowing history important? 
We can learn much from the past that will help us make informed choices in the present and the future.  As George Santayana put it, “Those who cannot remember the past are doomed to repeat it.”  Learning from civilization’s triumphs and mistakes is definitely important.  At the same time, however, history is also a pleasure in itself.  Knowing what lies behind you helps orient you on your current path in life.  The stories are just plain interesting too.

What is your favorite period or aspect of history to learn about or teach about and why? 
As for time period, I love the entire nineteenth century but have a particular soft spot for the years after the Civil War.  My great grandparents were all born in the 1860s through 1880s.  Because my grandparents shared their parents’ stories, I feel that I can reach that far back in history with a chain of first-person narrative.  It certainly makes the past come alive.  As for an aspect of history, I love food history.  (Good thing since I’m finishing up a book about how to preserve family recipes, right?)  Nothing makes me grumpier than visiting a historic home only to discover the kitchen wasn’t included in the renovations or isn’t part of the tour!  Old recipes and foodways are a great way to learn about everyday life in the past and the sensual (and nostalgic) nature of food often triggers an emotional response that draws people in to history.

How do you think students in history classes, and their appreciation and understanding of history, today different from years past? 
During my studies in Information Science, we looked at how fast information is doubling.  There is so much to learn, so much to know.  At the same time, many of the traditional sources of student information (encyclopedias, reference books found via a librarian) are often spurned in favor of quick web searches.  Students have to be better consumers of information than they did in the past.  They have to learn the crucial skills involved with sorting information and making educated decisions about both importance and credibility.  That greatly impacts their approach to history.

If you were given the unlimited ability to redesign either k-12 social studies education or post-secondary history education, what would you change? 
I promise I’m not saying this to please my audience…  I truly think teacher salaries should be raised substantially and administrative support given to the teachers so that teaching garners the respect it deserves.  Teachers should feel safe in the classroom.  They should feel administration will stand behind them (within reason) should disputes arise with students and parents.  They should feel they have the breathing room in the curriculum to share specialized knowledge or do the special projects that fills the job with creativity and saves them from burnout.  In short, the job itself should be attractive enough that great minds are clamoring for the honor of teaching our kids.

1 comment:

  1. Great post, but among your qualifications, you left off that you served on the board of trustees of the Georgia Council for the Social Studies. You also failed to mention our mutual interest in using old photo postcards as a tool in teaching history--especially to an audience that is so visually oriented.