1. How and when did you get hooked on history?
My parents were both big advocates for education both in traditional academia and as a form of casual entertainment. Every family vacation from a very young age included museums, historic sites, botanical gardens, aquariums… all kinds of informal education. My parents made a particular point of traveling around different parts of Florida as my brother and I were growing up—neither of my parents is originally from Florida, but after moving here when I was less than a year old they wanted us to grow up knowledgeable about our new home.
Growing up as the talkative youngest child in a family full of well-educated lively conversationalists may have also been a contributing factor. I wanted to participate! It was a strong early motivator both to learn and to get good at communication.
I didn’t truly recognize how much interest I had developed in history until I was working toward my undergraduate degree—initially an English major, I added History and became a double major due to the influence of several excellent history professors.
2. What role does history play or has it played in your personal life?
A shared interest in history connects me to my family as well as my closest friends. My partner and I initially bonded as friends by watching documentaries together and discussing history as filtered through the lenses created by our respective experiences.
3. How does history play a part of your professional life/career?
As a current Curator of Education and in my previous roles in museums, history has played an extremely prominent role in my work. Communicating history to the public via planned exhibits and programming, training docents, and writing physical signage and online content has made up a large portion of my work.
In a less direct sense, as someone who works inside a National Historic Landmark, I am surrounded by history both in the sense that the walls of my office are lined with books and binders full of research, and in the sense that 100 years ago, my office was a part of a suite of guest rooms in the Tampa Bay Hotel that served as temporary home to countless prominent people throughout the years of the Hotel’s operation.
4. Why is studying/knowing history important ?
We all benefit from larger context and broader understanding of the world we live in, and we all benefit from more of us having that understanding. No moment is an island, every event or development in our modern world has roots throughout historical events, which in turn have their own genealogies through history. Knowing history, and continuously broadening our knowledge of history from multiple perspectives gives each of us a stronger understanding of the world we live in, and better prepares us to create a positive future.
5. What is your favorite period or aspect of history to learn about and why?
This question is a real challenge—the answer changes constantly. My work over the past decade both in my current and previous positions has been very focused on Reconstruction Era-1910s Florida, and it is a region and era that I have loved studying and bringing to the public. In many way it is an era in which Florida accelerated rapidly into “modernity.”
My first historic love was ancient and classical Mediterranean history, in my case with a particular interest in Egypt and the Phoenicians. I also have a strong interest in 20th century American sociocultural history, I’m fascinated by the shifted forms of Americana throughout the decades.
6. What is the history of the Henry B. Plant Museum?
The Henry B Plant Museum occupies the first-floor south hallway of the enormous minaret-topped brick building in downtown Tampa. The structure and 150 acres of the land surrounding it (most of which is now the University of Tampa campus) were once the rail and steam tycoon Henry Plant’s most elaborate all-inclusive winter hotel—the Tampa Bay Hotel. The Hotel opened in 1891 and in 1898 became the staging point for US military forces fighting in the Caribbean theaters of the Spanish-American War. The hotel was purchased by the City of Tampa in 1905 and continued operating as a hotel until 1932, when the costs of operation became too high in the face of the Great Depression.
7. What do you hope visitors to the Plant Museum learn and take away with them?
The Henry B. Plant Museum holds the distinction of accreditation by the American Alliance of Museums. Its mission is to interpret the Tampa Bay Hotel and the experiences of the diverse individuals who contributed to its success. The Museum ignites thought and transports visitors to another era through exhibits and innovative programs, so that they may be educated and inspired by the lifestyles, times and experiences of Florida’s early tourist industry. Visitors are immersed in the opulence of the 1891 Tampa Bay Hotel and its rich history.