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
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
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
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.