Friday, August 27, 2021

7 Questions With Robin Hayutin, Executive Director of LearningPlunge


Robin Hayutin is a lawyer and an educator. After graduating from Duke Law School, she was a litigator for many years before pivoting to the education space. Robin served as Director of Legal Education for the Association of Corporate Counsel National Capital Region and now serves as Executive Director of LearningPlunge, a nonprofit organization with the mission to make education work not just for some – but for everyone! 

To our shop:
Kids Zone:
Teachers Corner:
Guide to using HistoryPlunge in the classroom:
Instagram (a history quiz every day in our stories):

1.      How and when did you get hooked on history?

I got hooked on history in a roundabout way. We started out by producing a geography card game that had a little history in it. Then when we saw how engaged students playing that game were, we decided to produce a U.S. history game. As we researched for that game, I learned more and
more. The more I learned, the more connections I could make, and I just wanted to keep learning. And that continues to be my personal goal and our goal as an organization – to help others keep learning in fun and engaging way.

2.      What role does history play or has it played in your personal life?

History is a huge part of my personal life, as every day I am researching for social media posts, trivia challenges and new card games that we are producing. And nearly every day I learn something new.

3.      How does history play a part of your professional life/career?

I am a lawyer by trade, and since law is based on precedent, a subset of history has always been a part of my career. Now that I work full time running an organization that focuses on U.S. history, I am immersed in it every day.

4.      Why is studying/knowing history important?

History is important to understand how we got to where we are today. Understanding the debates that occurred during the formation and growth of our country helps us both appreciate the good things and also learn from past mistakes. Today, when election time comes, we decide whether to vote, when school starts, we go to our neighborhood schools. But we have these privileges because of trailblazers from history that paved the way, people who signed the Declaration of Independence, putting
their lives on the line, people who went to their neighborhood schools even though they knew each day would bring trauma so that they could be part of integration, people who risked jail by refusing to give up their seat on a bus, people who were arrested for voting because they felt so strongly that women should be able to vote. And there are thousands more examples. It is also important to know about and understand the debates that took place as our nation was formed, during the years leading up to
the Civil War, the post-Civil War and Civil Rights Movements. There are nuances to all of these eras, and knowing and understanding the history provides context as we move forward and shape new policies.

5.      What is your favorite period or aspect of history to learn about and

I really don’t have a favorite period of history. My favorite aspect of history is learning how the different periods and events tie together.

6.         What is LearningPlunge and how did it get started?

We started out by creating a U.S. geography game called GeoPlunge. We took it into many classrooms of all kinds and noticed that the students loved playing. They were learning a ton and learning it quickly, but they didn’t see it as an educational game. They were just having fun. We
then started organizing multi-school tournaments in Washington, D.C. and attracted over 200 students each time. Many of these were held in the huge atrium at the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery and the buzz in the room was amazing to see. We received teacher feedback that the
tournament was an equalizer. Students that were already engaged in school liked to play and so did those who were not normally interested in school. One teacher summed it up by saying that it gives students that do not usually shine an opportunity to shine. Because many of our
players came from low-income communities, we formed a 501(c)(3) so that we could marshal our sponsorships into providing free programming so that all schools and students could participate at no cost.

Since we were often at the National Portrait Gallery, we began talking to that organization about collaborating on a U.S. history game modelled after GeoPlunge that contained portraits and images from the museum’s collection - and the result was HistoryPlunge. HistoryPlunge is
comprehensive and can be played by younger students, older students, and adults. We are now working on additional games that take a deeper dive into aspects of history.

During the Covid pandemic, we pivoted and provided online GeoPlunge and HistoryPlunge Tournaments for students. We also started virtual monthly trivia nights for adults because we found that adults like to learn too while having fun.


7.      How are games helpful in teaching geography and history?

Games are helpful in teaching geography and history in so many ways. History often gets a bad reputation for being boring. Once students start having fun, they become engaged and want to learn more. Games change the way students view learning from something that is required,
to something that is desired.

Many students believe that they are not smart but when they play games with content, they tend to learn the content quickly and then they begin viewing themselves as smart. When teachers then teach history or geography in class, the students have a base knowledge and they become receptive and eager to learning more.

In addition to the content, our games are played in teams, so students learn together and work collaboratively, which they enjoy. The team nature also allows students to develop communication skills, leadership skills, teamwork skills, and we also stress sportsmanship. Our games
also involve strategy so that students learn to be creative and develop critical thinking skills.

Friday, August 20, 2021

7 Questions with Kyle Jenks, James Madison Portrayer


                                                    (Photo: The New York Historical Society)

Mr. Jenks, agent for the Fourth President, entered into historical interpretation as a reenactor of individuals in the French and Indian War and American Revolution. From that experience he developed and interprets a researched 18th century composite character, Douglas McKenna in connection with a number of historic interpretation activities. To round out his 18th century historic interpretation he portrays various roles on both sides of the War of Independence. He is the writer of the two act stage drama James and Dolley: Opposites Attract. He also created the Society Hill walking tour in Philadelphia conducted in character with Dolley Madison.

1.         How and when did you get hooked on history?
Hi. Thanks being interested in my story. I am from upstate New York. My wife and I took a short getaway to Bennington, Vermont in 2003. I was 45 years old. The hosts at our B & B asked us if we were coming back in August for Bennington Battle Days. We didn’t know what that was but curiosity drew us back. What we witnessed eventually changed the course of my profession.
We came upon a Revolutionary War encampment and battle reenactment of a 1777 battle. I knew right away that I wanted to be part of this hobby. The visceral aspect of military camp life witnessed live in front of me made a great impact upon my desire to learn more about the time period.
My wife was reluctant. So we eased our way in. I started in an unusual way by being cast in a historical pageant that reenacted the founding of Bennington, Vermont in 1742. I played the “bad New York” sheriff who was chased out by Ethan Allen and his Green Mountain Boys. After that great experience, we compromised by joining a musical unit since my wife was hesitant about being involved with weaponry. Within a year I was toting a musket and we were traveling 2 or 3 weekends a month to various French and Indian war or American Revolution events. We did this for six consecutive years before moving to another state.
2.         What role does history play or has it played in your personal life?
It gives me perspective, appreciation, empathy and understanding to be more informed about developing reliable opinions and making smart decisions. It gives me the ability to appreciate things in context and not impose modern judgements upon past mores.
3.          How does history play a part of your professional life/career?
It was the reason I changed my career in my 50’s. Reenacting led me to a series of evolutionary discoveries that eventually led to portraying founding father and fourth President James Madison. I began by following the suggestion of my reenactment friends. I created historically inspired characters and liked it so much I began performing them for schools. 
The next step was an entirely new discovery. After moving to Ohio, I found out about the existence of outdoor historical drama. I watched three of them and instinctively knew I had to write and produce one. After a couple of years, Drums Along the Mohawk Outdoor Drama was born. It was performed in 2012, 2014 and 2015, then died on the vine after exhausting my life savings. 
The final step puts me where I am today. I found out about the existence of historical interpreters who portray real people. All of these previous experiences laid a valuable foundation for portraying a historical figure from roughly the same time period. I settled on James Madison because he is famous but still relatively unknown. My goal is to portray him professionally for a full time career. I have made steady progress ever since beginning this journey. It is now a growing part time career. I feel good about finding a professional path that I believe in, enjoy doing and serves others.

4.      Why is studying/knowing history important?
I very recently came to the conclusion after portraying Mr. Madison for 6 years that I will sometimes use other words besides history. History has a connotation in my opinion that too often wrongly translates to “boring.” There is a certain amount of broken record apathy in my opinion when people hear the word history. My latest project was to record a performance that commemorates the 230th anniversary of the ratification of the Bill of Rights. When my colleague asked “President Madison” why history was important in drafting the Bill of Rights, in character I explained that similar events happened in the past and people’s responses to those events were tools that provided evidence from which to make good decisions regarding the Bill of Rights.
5.      What is your favorite period or aspect of history to learn about and why?
When I was a little kid I liked the 1960’s TV show Rin Tin Tin so when it came time to choose a reenactment time period I was always surprised I did not become a Civil War reenactor. Having grown up near Saratoga, NY, French and Indian War and American Revolution history was all around me. I ended up being drawn to that time period because it is what created a country the likes of which the world has never seen. The Civil War on the other hand is the awful story of how our country became a house divided and our founding principles were shaken to their core. Two years before James Madison’s death he wrote: Advice to My Country. In it he said it was his wish that people would “cherish and perpetuate the union of these States.” For me that is a much more important lesson to teach than to relive divisiveness, destruction and human suffering.
6.      How did you become a professional James Madison interpreter?
It took me 5 years to get up the guts to do it. I did not believe I had the mental capacity to portray a man with such a profound intellect. But I couldn’t come up with any other person that fit. He lived (mostly) within the time period I am interested in, and I am about the same height as he. About 5’4” tall.
I overcame my reluctance by first committing to one year of study. That was 2014. Then I followed the advice of an interpreter friend who recommended I begin with a short performance on a narrow topic and not take questions. My first public performance was in October 2015.

7.      Why are James and Dolley Madison still relevant today?
There are two strongly positive reasons to remember James and Dolley together.
The first is their deep love and commitment to each other. They met in Philadelphia when James was a Congressmen during George Washington’s administration. Much attention has been given to the tight bond John and Abigail Adams had-rightly so, evident through the letters written between them. John Adams was overseas as an official Minister representing our country more than once so he was not home a lot. He and Abigail had to bear the burden of separation and therefore the explanation for their numerous letters. James Madison never went overseas and therefore he and Dolley were not apart that much.  So the evidence letters provide makes it harder to discover what their relationship was like.

The second reason to remember James and Dolley is that Dolley was an active member of James’ administration as an "unofficial official." By expertly managing the social scene in Washington City, she orchestrated this first power couple’s ability to bring open discussion and Madison’s vision of government to the “after hours” scene. Washington City at that time was a somewhat barren place. It had not developed yet. People didn’t have too many places to go for entertainment. Dolley organized and hosted weekly Wednesday Evening Drawing Rooms in the Oval room in order to get people to mix. She did not discriminate or favor anyone over another. She used the new Federal City as a place where all types of citizens could mingle, sharing ideas and opinions. It took the stress off partisanship and helped establish an important symbol of what it meant to be an American. It went a long way in giving our citizens “an American identity.”

For inquiries into bookings, you can contact me in the following ways:
Instagram: @madisonportrayer

Come to Philadelphia and take my Society Hill Walking Tour!

The most engaging walking tour to be found in Philadelphia. In fact, it’s really a whole immersive experience. No walking tour explores the Society Hill neighborhood in Philadelphia. 
 For pricing, scheduling and other questions e-mail: 
Kyle Jenks at

Friday, August 13, 2021

7 Questions with Don Hagist, Editor of the Journal of the American Revolution


DON N. HAGIST is managing editor of the Journal of the American Revolution. An expert on the British army in the American Revolution, he is the author of many books and articles, including Noble Volunteers: The British Soldiers Who Fought the American Revolution (Westholme 2020), The Revolution's Last Men: The Stories Behind the Photographs (Westholme 2015), and British Soldiers, American War: Voices of the American Revolution (Westholme 2012).

1.          How and when did you get  hooked on history?

I grew up in a house full of books on all subjects, and got interested in many things. Among the history books, those that I found most compelling were personal accounts, either autobiographical or biographical, that talked about individual people doing interesting things. Large-scale events become much more interesting and relatable when viewed from the perspective of how people experienced them.

2.          What role does history play or has it played in your personal life?

People have a nature predilection towards collecting things - coins, salt and pepper shakers, autographs, or what have you. There's a sense of pleasure in finding things that you've decided for yourself that you need, just because they happen to interest you. Seeking and finding bits of historical information, and seeing how they fit together, satisfies that compulsion for me, to accumulate related things and try to fill in gaps in the collection. It's like working on a 10,000 piece jigsaw puzzle, where you have to find each of the pieces, and you don't know what the picture looks like.

3.          How does history play  a part of your professional life/career?

I'm an engineer for a medical device company, developing robotics products for orthopedic surgery applications. That doesn't sound related to history, but I apply the same rigor to historical pursuits that I apply to engineering: find as much data as possible, and focus only on what the data actually tells you. From the other direction, history informs me about human experience and how people respond to situations, which helps to understand human factors in product design.

4.          Why is studying/knowing history important?

Everything about the present, both natural and artificial, has been shaped by the past. While it is impossible to know everything from the past that influenced or shaped a given person, object, or event, the basic understanding that these influences exist helps deepen our appreciation for whatever in the present we're dealing with. No one knows "history", of course; instead, each of us knows some specifics aspects of some tiny part of history, but no matter what it is, it helps us understand the world around us. Nothing simply exists in isolation - every personality, every procedure, every arrangement of objects became that way because of events and decisions in the past.

5.          What is your favorite period or aspect of history to learn about and why?

There are many that could be favorites if there were enough time to learn about them all. I've chosen to focus on the American Revolution, specifically the lives and experiences of British soldiers who served in America in the 1770s and 1780s. That sounds like a very narrow focus, but for me it's trying to find detailed information on more than 50,000 people - where they came from and what they experienced. We think of armies in terms of large, homogeneous numbers, but every person in that army was an individual with their own life story.

6.         What is the Journal of the American Revolution and what is your role?

Journal of the American Revolution is an on-line magazine focused on the American Revolution and America's founding era, roughly 1765 through 1805. We publish articles that tell about people and events of this period, based on primary sources, with the emphasis on presenting only the information that can be verified through original documents. There's a lot of fanciful exaggeration and outright mythology about this era, some of it well-meaning with an intention of filling in the blanks of an incomplete historical record; we strive to cut through that and show what is known and unknown about this important time period.
The publication was founded at the beginning of 2013; I joined as an editor part way through that year, and am now the managing editor. JAR is a subsidiary of Westholme Publishing, which has an extensive catalog of books on the American Revolution era as well as other history books.

7.      Tell us about your book Noble Volunteers and how you came to write it?

Noble Volunteers: the British Soldiers who fought the American Revolution describes the people who made up the rank and file of the British army in America from 1774 through 1783 - the sergeants, corporals, drummers, fifers and private soldiers. The book tells about how they were recruited, trained, paid, lived, ate, worked, played, fought, suffered and healed, with an emphasis on diversity rather than commonality. Every single person had their own story, and we don't know them all, but the book will show that there is no single answer to questions like "why did men enlist?", "where did soldiers live?", "how deadly were wounds?" and so forth. Besides providing a detailed picture of the varied experiences soldiers might have, the book also clearly demonstrates that the war in America was not lost due to any deficiencies in the capabilities of the soldiers, but instead through difficulties of logistics, poor strategy, and an overall lack of understanding by the British government of how to cope with a popular rebellion in a distant colony.
Signed copies of the book are available here:

Friday, August 6, 2021

7 Questions with Lance Geiger, The History Guy

Lance Geiger is best known as The History Guy on YouTube, producing short videos on obscure topics of history three days a week. After multiple careers in academia and the corporate world, Lance decided to transform his life-long passion for history into a channel dedicated to the idea that history does not need to be boring, reminding viewers that history deserves to be remembered and, of course, that all good stories involve pirates. To date Lance has garnered more than 130 million views and has gotten to work with top quality museums, historical sites, and The History Channel's History-at-Home series.  His videos have been highlighted by online platforms of Forbes Magazine and the Wall Street Journal. ( )

    1.          How and when did you get  hooked on history? 

 I was a history buff from an early age, and can't remember when I did not love history.  I credit my love of history to my father's love for war documentaries and John Wayne movies. 

2.          What role does history play or has it played in your personal life? 

My penchant for telling stories about history has been a tie that binds me in many of my personal and professional relationships.  Most notably, a passion for history was a deep shared bond with my father that has carried on with my sons. 

3.          How does history play  a part of your professional life/career? 

Previously my passion for history was a way to build relationships with clients and colleagues. Since 2017, talking about history has been my full-time career. 

4.          Why is studying/knowing history important? 

History certainly informs us and helps us make independent decisions about our present.  I cannot see a nation succeeding if its citizens forget their history.  History is also just darned good entertainment, with stories quite often stranger and more interesting than fiction. 

5.          What is your favorite period or aspect of history to learn about and why? 

I am not good at picking favorites.  On the channel I always say that my favorite bit of history is whatever episode I am working on at the moment. I am, viewers are aware, rather fond of vintage hats. 

6.         How did you become the History Guy? 

I was "in between jobs" in my corporate career and decided that I wanted to do something different. Sometimes people ask what the magic formula is for success on social media and I answer honestly that I have no idea.  I had no background in video, a little experience in tele-teaching, a computer and an idea, and I just followed my nose. 

7.      What kind of content can people expect to find from you ? 

My channel is about telling compelling stories. My content is deliberately diverse, works in a lot of science, and even wanders some into prehistory.  In a given week I might talk about an event in ancient Rome, tell a story about the Second World War, and then talk about the history of ketchup.