Zerah Jakub is the Manager of Educational Resources and Outreach at the Fred W. Smith National Library for the Study of George Washington at Mount Vernon. She earned her M.A. in Museum Studies with a focus on Museum Education and Technology from The Johns Hopkins University and her B.A. in History and American Studies from Boston University. She spent six years working at museums in Boston before moving to Virginia to work at George Washington’s Mount Vernon in 2012. Currently she manages the digital presence of the Education Department at Mount Vernon and is working on updating and creating new classroom resources about George Washington. She is also the voice behind @GWBooks on Twitter and both the Fred W. Smith National Library and Mount Vernon for Teachers Facebook pages.
and/or when did you get you hooked on history?
I honestly can’t remember exactly when I became
hooked on history. Each year my three older brothers and I went on a summer
adventure with our parents that always incorporated two things: historic sites
and roller coasters. My parents are both teachers so educational experiences
were always a focus on our annual summer vacations.
When I was in lower elementary school I received
Molly, my first AmericanGirl® doll, at Christmas and devoured the books that
came with her. My love of history just kept growing as each Christmas I
received another doll and another glimpse into the past.
By the end of the fifth grade I knew that I wanted
to study history. I remember being told on the last day of school that new
textbooks were being ordered for the following year and we were welcome to take
our history text if we wanted. I’m pretty sure I’m the only kid who took my
teacher up on the offer, and I still have the book today. I walked home that
day, showed the book to my mother, and declared that I would be attending
college to study history.
role does history play or has it played in your personal life?
History has completely taken over my personal
life: I’m constantly buying new bookshelves to house my growing library; my
house is decorated with historic maps and prints; I have a growing collection
of pewter plates with historic scenes; and my friends refuse to travel with me
because I tend to show up at the airport with a well-researched list of
historic places to visit.
is/How was history a part of your professional life/career?
History is a very personal thing to me. I become
incredibly offended when I hear people say “history is boring” because usually
they are not referring to the true study of history, but to the memorization of
dates. My decision to go into museum education rather than a more traditional
classroom setting was in part to change the minds of those who think they hate
history. The informal educational setting of the museum can allow for history
haters to find a personal connection to the past through the examination of
objects, documents, letters, movies, music, oral histories, etc. I know I’ve
done my job well when I see the eyes of someone who claims to hate history start
to light up when they’ve found that personal connection with the past.
4. Why is
studying/knowing history important?
Not only does the study of history provide insight
into the past that can help with understanding the present, it also provides
those who study it with a valuable skill set that is transferable to other
disciplines. Historical analysis, the ability to recognize multiple viewpoints,
written and oral communication, and creativity are just some of the skills that
history can teach.
5. What is
your favorite period or aspect of history to learn about and why?
I absolutely love American History in the years
between the French and Indian War and the outbreak of the American Revolution –
roughly 1763 to 1776. You can see the frustrations of the American colonists
growing as each year passes into the next and you can follow along as they
attempt to organize themselves into factions against the British crown and
Parliament. This period also lends itself to a reflection on the past as many
of the issues had their beginnings during the English Civil Wars and in their
does Mount Vernon tell us about George Washington the man and the President?
Mount Vernon, both the mansion and the larger
estate, provides many clues and much insight into who George Washington really
was. The value he placed on practicality over style is evident in the slightly
asymmetrical appearance of the west front of the mansion; his ingenuity can be
seen in the 16-sided barn he had built in the 1790s; his foresight can be seen
in his adoption of the Oliver Evans system at his gristmill; aspects of his day
to day life can be ascertained from artifacts such as ceramics, buckles, animal
bones, building materials, and beads found during archaeological excavations of
the South Grove Midden (or trashpit)
7. How is
the story told at Mount Vernon America’s Story?
The story told at Mount Vernon is about much more
than just the life of the Commander in Chief of the Continental Army and first
President of the United States. It is the story of the American family when
seen through the eyes of the children who lived at Mount Vernon during
Washington’s lifetime; not only Washington’s step-children Patsy and
Jacky, but two of his step-grandchildren, Nellie and Washy, in addition to the
numerous nieces, nephews, and family friends, such as the son of the Marquis de
Lafayette. It is the story of American innovation through the technological
advances Washington made on his farms and at his gristmill that helped ushered in
the Industrial Revolution. It is the story of American progress when
Washington’s changing views on slavery are examined. It is the story of
American ingenuity when Ann Pamela Cunningham and the Mount Vernon Ladies’
Association raised the funds to purchase and preserve Mount Vernon for the
American people. The story of Mount Vernon is America’s story because it has
the ability to resonate with Americans on multiple levels.