Friday, February 25, 2022

7 Questions with Johanna Porr, Public Historian


Johanna Porr is the Orange County Historian in New York State. New York is the only state in the United States with a Local Historians Law (Arts and Cultural Affairs Law, Section 57.07) which was established in 1919 to ensure that every local government appoint an official historian to care for their historical archives and resources and act as keynote for important community commemorations. The duties of County Historians are wide and varied but include things like researching public inquires, writing and publishing local histories, speaking at important events, educating the public through programs and partnerships, and supporting historic preservation causes in the region. I serve at the pleasure of an elected County Executive and report to an elected County Legislature. Her work therefore supports the initiatives of the County government,  and she is often asked to provide historical context that may be relevant to contemporary policies and decision making.

Her website explains more about her resume and projects.

Peering into the wall of the Masonic Temple in Newburgh, NY while extracting a time capsule from behind the datestone.

 1. How did you get hooked on history?

1.     I started on the path of public history when I was given the opportunity to work as a summer tour guide at Washington’s Headquarters State Historic Site in my home city of Newburgh, NY. I was a teenager and had no experience at all but the staff believed in me. They put a stack of Revolutionary War history books and site tour templates on the table and told me to study for two weeks then see if I’m comfortable giving tours. General George Washington and the events of the American Revolution quickly became my passion and I stayed on for seven years while working my way through college. I majored in Anthropology and Archaeology and got my history training and exposure through that tour guide job. Working in a learning environment opened my eyes to intellectual professions and provided me at a young age with several mentors who have helped me to succeed as I’ve taken on more responsibility through the years. My path wasn’t a straight line, I attended study abroad programs in Europe including receiving a degree from Franklin University in Lugano, Switzerland and went to Williamsburg, VA for a summer to study at the Jamestown Rediscovery field school, I was then employed for two years as the director of the Historical Society of Newburgh Bay and the Highlands before my appointment to the current position in 2014. Recently through my capacity as Orange County Historian, I’ve taken on the role of Chair of the Orange County Semiquincentennial Commission and find myself immersed once again in thinking about how to translate academic scholarship about the American Revolution into practical local programming. Renewing the friendships and professional circles that I had developed through my work at Washington’s HQ as I plan for this 250-year commemoration, has shed light on just how special and meaningful those years at Washington’s Headquarters were to my professional foundation.

 (left) Keynote speaker at the 150th anniversary of Frederick Douglass’ jubilee march through Newburgh, NY marking the passing of the 15th Amendment. (right) Unveiling a Legend and Lore historic marker from the Pomeroy Foundation in front of the 1841 Courthouse in Goshen, NY with County Executive Steve Neuhaus and Town of Goshen Historian Ed Conner

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

My home city of Newburgh, NY is a place that has struggled for more than 60 years. It was afflicted by the ills of suburbanization, car culture, redlining and by a devastating Urban Renewal free-for-all that destroyed over 1,300 addresses and left behind a collective trauma from the displacements and loss. The crime and poverty that I witnessed as a child and lack of opportunity for young people inspires me every day to forge a path for others to rise from the disadvantages into worthwhile careers. The City of Newburgh is a Hudson River city full of untapped potential for public history, historic preservation, historic trades and heritage tourism jobs. Not only do we have General George Washington’s longest wartime headquarters (established as the first publicly owned historic site in the Nation in 1850) but we also have New York State’s largest contiguous historic district which is full of authentic architecture built by (Newburgh native) A.J. Downing, Calvert Vaux, Frederick Clarke Withers, A.J. Davis, etc. Public history gives me hope that by embracing our past, my struggling city can once again create a thriving downtown that employs and inspires our diverse and impoverished youth.


3.    What role does history play in your professional life?

 My career in public history has presented me with opportunities that I wouldn’t have had otherwise. What I find the most joy in is being able to be the bridge between worlds. I have helped neighborhood families to fly kites for the first time at the annual Kites Over the Hudson celebration at Washington’s Headquarters, but I’ve also shared a luxurious Manhattan meal with a bestselling author as he picked my brain for ideas. I’ve worked 3 part time jobs at once while trying to cover tuition and still have enough to buy groceries, but I’ve also been invited to serve on grant panels and decide where big money gets allocated. I’ve shared my archaeological findings with giggling Kindergarteners, but I’ve also driven 800 miles with artifacts in my backseat to present to a group of discerning academic scholars. Seeing how people live and work in a wide range of scenarios has empowered me to feel comfortable asking for help and making connections between unlikely groups. My professional career in historic preservation has tapped my versatility and creativity and after almost twenty years in this line of work, I feel confident that I can take on any challenge.


Placing flags on the graves of the local soldiers who were killed in action at the Battle of St. Quentin Canal in the Somme American Cemetery in France.

Teaching Boy Scouts in proper techniques for gravestone cleaning at a workshop in Deerpark, NY

4.     Why is the study of history important?

I am of the opinion that it is important to study history because it is endlessly interesting. Learning one thread of a topic, leads to another and another and another. The more you know, the more you want to know. The more you want to know, the more you question the ‘way things are’ and seek to uncover universal truths. The more you uncover, the more interested you become in the human condition. The more interested you are with other people’s circumstances, the deeper your ability to feel the empathy, comradery and the bonds of trust that transcend time, place and culture. Feeling connected to something larger than the self will elicit a sense of duty to use your knowledge to stand up for what’s right. Studying and teaching history democratizes knowledge and empowers communities to know when activism and action is necessary.


With CRM archaeologist Kristin Clyne-Lehmann and two of our neighborhood volunteers at the public archaeology dig at Weigand’s Tavern in Newburgh, NY


5.     What is your favorite time or place of history to study?

When I travel I am drawn to ancient Mediterranean cultures such as Egypt, Turkey, Croatia, Greece and Italy. I find myself at ease in the countryside museums and open-air collections, and enjoy the foods, the languages, oral traditions and perspectives on time. But as far as choosing a time period that piques my intellectual curiosity-- I would have to say it’s the Great War/ World War I. It’s a topic that showcases the highs and lows of society. The optimism and triumph, the regrets, the trauma, the injustices, the wasted lives. The contrasts of modern warfare set into a period where aviation and motion pictures were only budding technologies.  It’s also astounding to look at the ways in which art, journalism, medicine and other aspects of our contemporary culture were altered by the war. It seems to me that we are still living in an era shaped directly by World War I. This interest has led to creative local history programming. In exploring this interest during the centennial period, I planned and hosted a trip to Belgium and France. Exactly 100 years to the day after 43 soldiers from Orange County, part of the 107th NY Infantry Regiment, perished together at the Battle of St Quentin Canal on Sept. 29, 1918, our group of historians, veterans and descendants of World War I soldiers followed in the footsteps of the men. For 10 days we visited landmarks and learned about their experiences in the war, then arrived at the Somme American cemetery to place flags on the graves of the fallen. Simultaneously local veterans placed wreaths on the graves of World War I soldiers buried in Orange County and, perhaps surprisingly, the Newburgh Brewing Company also hosted a history event in their taproom and dedicated a beer to a well-known soldier named Pvt. Walter Allison who had died that day. A history and photo exhibit at the Orange County Government Center is now on permanent display. But the 107th Infantry Regiment was not the only regiment who sent local men into battle, so in 2023 I’m hosting another trip to Europe to follow in the footsteps of the men who fought in the 369th NY Infantry Regiment including Pvt. Horace Pippin who grew up in Goshen, NY. The tour is open to anyone who wants to travel and learn with a group of history lovers, sign up—you won’t regret it!


6.     Your Instagram account is called "Life of a Public Historian." What exactly is a public historian as opposed to just an historian?

It’s often said that the historical professions are made up of sharers and hoarders. I am a sharer to the most extreme degree. I want everyone to get the same satisfaction and fulfillment out of learning that I do.  So the “public” in Public Historian is a very important distinction. My Instagram account @lifeofapublichistorian is a place to share the unique and interesting topics, places, scenarios that I find myself in through my work. But I also have another Instagram account @newburghbydesign where share the history of the built-environment of Newburgh, NY which is often at the front line of historical preservation activism because of the reality that it is hard to maintain New York State’s largest historic district under pressures of widespread economic hardship. The group of supporters who follow me on that account came through and saved a historic building just last week – in 24 hours’ time, I was able to go to City Hall with a binder of 100 letters of support and over 1,500 petition signatures asking for the city to reconsider a demolition. In addition to working, volunteering and restoring my own 1917 historic Tudor home in Newburgh, NY with my husband and son, I also teach ‘Intro to Historic Preservation’ in a historic trades program at SUNY Westchester because in order to authentically expand widespread understanding of the importance of public history, agency and knowledge must be passed the hands of next generation.


Commemorating the centennial of women’s suffrage with a community bike ride down Broadway in Newburgh, NY

7.     In your opinion, what is the state of public history and preservation awareness and consciousness today? 

History and historic preservation is popular and viable in our contemporary world. The problems that we face in harnessing the potential have to do with communication and employment barriers. If the school districts, local governments and tourism bureaus put more resources into empowering young people, especially through employment in historic trades and heritage tourism professions, a generation of public historians would thrive and they would make our communities stronger. Whenever it is possible, I invite everyone to be part of uncovering history, and in the most literal sense this summer I invited the public to participate in an archaeological dig in Newburgh’s historic district. The adults and kids who volunteered to sift through the dirt and sort artifacts had an unforgettable hands-on experience that changed their understanding of their neighborhood. Give the public the chance to be community stewards of historical memory and resources, and  they will rise well above our expectations. 

Friday, February 18, 2022

7 Questions With Laura Rocklyn, Writer, Actress, and Historical Interpreter


Laura Rocklyn is an acting troupe member with History At Play, a museum interpreter at The Paul Revere House Museum, and an Associate Company Member at The Chesapeake Shakespeare Company. As a freelance living history performer, she writes and performs historic character portrayals for educational groups up and down the East Coast, such as the Jane Austen Society of North America, The New York Society Library, and the North American Friends of Chawton House. Laura has published articles in Brontë Studies and The Revere Express, and her short stories have appeared in the literary journals Stork, New Square, and LitMag. You can follow her work on Instagram and Twitter @Laura_Lost_in_Time

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

My love of history started early.  My mother was a teacher and, in addition to exploring the rich history of our hometown Charlottesville, Virginia, she planned all of our vacations when I was growing up around history and literature.  This made the historical stories and characters I was studying feel very real and near to me, not like tales of a far off or unimportant time.  I remember the particular magic of a trip to England when I was around seven or eight and deep into an obsession with the musical Camelot, where we went in search of the historical King Arthur.  We visited sites with Arthurian connections, from Tintagel Castle to Stonehenge to Glastonbury Abbey.  My mother guided me on how to separate fact from legend as we read and researched different accounts of King Arthur along the way.
Then, when I was in sixth grade, my mother got a job teaching in Salisbury, England, and I went with her and attended the Salisbury Cathedral School.  The school had been founded in 1091 by St. Osmund, and is housed in the old Bishops' Palace, parts of which date back to the 13th century. Being immersed in that depth of history on a daily basis fascinated me, and I loved living in a place where tangible evidence of historical events was all around.  There is nothing quite like walking every day up a stone staircase where each step is worn down in the center from all the people that have walked the staircase before you over the last 800-odd years.

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

History is very much a part of my daily life.  Since my childhood experiences, I have always been drawn to live in places that have a strong sense of history, from Old Town Alexandria, Virginia to Boston, Massachusetts.  As an actor, writer, and first person historical interpreter, I find that historical stories are my greatest inspiration -- there are so many good ones that have yet to be uncovered -- and I love to be in a place where I can stumble across new stories and historical figures around every corner.
My work on Marian "Clover" Adams actively changed my life because she is the reason that I now live in Boston.  When the play that Ty Hallmark and I wrote about Clover was produced by Ally Theatre Company in Washington, DC in 2017, Clover's biographer, Dr. Natalie Dykstra, very graciously came to see a performance and join us for a Q&A.  When we were talking after the show, I told her how much I admired her work and asked what she would recommend for an aspiring young biographer.  Without hesitation, she said that I should go to Emerson College in Boston and study with a specific professor there who had also been an extraordinary mentor to her.  I was in the midst of applying to graduate schools for Creative Writing MFAs and added Emerson to the list.  I was accepted, fell in love with Boston and all of the extraordinary stories that are held in its stones.  The rest, as they say, is history!

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

History has come to be the main focus of all of my work.  Growing up, I always knew that I loved telling stories, both writing them and bringing them to life on stage as an actor, and most of the stories that truly captivated me were about historical women.  Like many young girls of my generation, my two best friends and I had the American Girl dolls, and our first plays as very young children were about the adventures of Kirsten in 1854, Samantha in 1904, or Felicity in 1774.  I didn't know quite how I could make writing and performing historical dramas into a practical job when I was an adult in the real world, but I felt something like a vocation to inspire others to be fascinated by history in the way that I had been inspired.  Then, in the summer after my junior year of college, I had the extraordinary opportunity to do an internship at Colonial Williamsburg in what at that time was called the Theatrical Interpretation Department.  Performing four educational shows a day at the Playbooth Stage, I discovered that writing and performing historical stories was a real job that I could do very well!
My main focus for many years was working as a freelance actress, performing mostly in Shakespeare and other period dramas, but my "day jobs" always had a historical focus, too.  I worked as a first person historical interpreter for Mount Vernon, I portrayed various characters for Natalie Zanin's Historic Strolls, I gave tours at Gadsby's Tavern Museum, and, increasingly, I began to develop programs of my own on historical women who intrigued me.  Now, a couple of master's degrees later, I tour with portrayals of Jane Austen, Dolley Madison, Louisa Catherine Adams, Clover Adams, and Charlotte Brontë, and I have a long list of new programs that I want to develop.  I have also published a number of historical fiction short stories, some nonfiction articles on my research, and I am currently working to finish the historical fiction novel I began as my MFA thesis at Emerson.  I also perform in several of the ensemble programs offered by History At Play and, by day, I work as a museum interpreter at the Paul Revere House Museum.

4.          Why is studying/knowing history important?

I have always admired the mission statement that John D. Rockefeller Jr. gave on the founding of Colonial Williamsburg: "That the future may learn from the past."  I don't think it's possible to overstate the importance of trying to understand and learn from the past as we move forward, especially in such turbulent times as these.  History can give us extraordinary examples that we can follow, and by which we can be inspired.  Just as importantly, history can also give excellent examples of what not to do and what should be avoided.
The laudable National History Day program highlights another reason that the study of history is so vital: teaching children how to read primary sources thoughtfully and critically in the study of history can enable them to apply those same critical skills in reading current articles and news stories.  If students learn to question, "Who wrote this historical document?" " What were their biases?"  "Were they writing this piece for a specific audience?"  then those students will know how to ask similar questions about the current news articles and other pieces of information that pop up in their social media feeds.
History can also be a great source of encouragement and even comfort.  I navigated the early months of the pandemic in 2020 by reading about the series of smallpox epidemics that swept through Boston in the 18th century and about the 1918 flu epidemic.  There was reassurance to be found in the fact that humanity has been through similarly terrifying times before and come out on the other side.

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

My first serious historical love was 19th century England because I spent most of my teenage years obsessed with the novels of the Brontë sisters, Elizabeth Gaskell, George Eliot, Charles Dickens, and Anthony Trollope.  I wrote numerous papers in high school with titles along the lines of:  "Charlotte Brontë's Shirley and Dickens' Hard Times as Windows into Life During the Industrial Revolution," and my undergraduate thesis was on spirituality in Charlotte Brontë's novels and the politics of religion in Victorian England.
As an adult, I've found that the historical period on which I focus at any given time is strongly influenced by where I'm living.  When I was based just outside of Washington, DC, I was completely absorbed by the Federal Era.  Reading Catherine Allgor's book Parlor Politics as a young woman in DC was a revelation to me because it introduced me to all of these fascinating, powerhouse women -- Louisa Catherine Adams, Dolley Madisosn, Elizabeth Patterson Bonaparte -- who made incredible contributions to the development of our young country, but are all too often overlooked by the history books.  My first ever visit to do research in an archive was to the Maryland Historical Society to look at Betsy Bonaparte's papers, and I was blown away by the sweeping view of American and European politics that came through in the letters, invitations, and scrapbooks of this woman from Baltimore.
Now that I am in Boston I am still fascinated by the incredible women shaping society here in the Federal Era -- a lot of my work these days is swirling around Hepzibah Swan and Sarah Wentworth Morton -- but I am also looking closely at the experiences of women during the American Revolution that formed these creative women of the Federal Era.  I love that, in all of these time periods that one might think we study in such detail in school, there are so many stories -- especially about women and people of color -- that have been overlooked and still need to be brought into the light.
I guess, looking over what I've written, the short answer would be that I tend to focus on women's history in the United States and Britain between about 1770 and 1870.

6.        How do you select the characters you portray? Is there a common theme among the characters you portray?

The characters I choose to portray are all women whose stories inspire me, and to whom I have felt a strong personal connection.  When I was younger and just starting out as a living history performer, my first two portrayals were my two favorite authors, Jane Austen and Charlotte Brontë.  I still think there is a value in portraying those two well-known women because fans of their novels are drawn to the programs.  Then, in talking about the broader lives of these authors, I can share stories about their involvement in historical events with which they aren't often associated, such as the experiences of Jane Austen's naval brothers during the Napoleonic Wars, or Charlotte Brontë's experiences in Brussels.
Now that I have more experience and more years of research under my belt, I like to find women whose stories and work deserve a wider audience.  This is why I portray Louisa Catherine Adams and Clover Adams.  Abigail Smith Adams is such a towering figure in history that the remarkable women who married into the Adams family in the subsequent generations are often overshadowed.  One thing I particularly enjoy is that, when I mention my program on Louisa, I generally get one of two responses: people are either curious because they've never heard of her, or they get really excited because they adore her.  There is rarely a middle ground.  I am so glad that I can now be the means of showing more people why they should, not only know who Louisa is, but adore her, too.  Because Louisa did such an exquisite job of documenting her experiences all over Europe while her husband, John Quincy Adams, held various diplomatic posts, that program is also an exciting way to explore a wide view of culture and politics from Massachusetts to Russia in the late 18th/early 19th century.

7.      What do you do in order to prepare for your portrayal in terms of research and creation?

Once I've pinpointed a woman I want to portray, I always read as many different biographies of the person as are available so that I can get a good overview of the figure's life and world.  Then, the most important part of my process is going back and immersing myself in the historical figure's own writings and papers, so I can draw my own conclusions and form my own picture of them from their own words.  I want to portray the person, not the legend.  (In a couple of cases, for programs I'm working on now, going to the person's papers in the archives has had to be the first step because there isn't yet a biography.)  I like to get as close to the person and their thoughts as possible -- I have spent many wonderful hours with Louisa Adams' papers on microfilm at the Massachusetts Historical Society -- but, if possible, I also always get the published collections of their papers to have in my study so I can refer to them at any time as I'm writing, like Margaret Smith's extraordinary three volume Letters of Charlotte Brontë.
To ensure that every aspect of my portrayal is as accurate as possible, I like to visit any places connected with the figures, see any of their possessions that still exist in museums, look at portraits, read any books that they mention reading in their papers, listen to the composers I know they admired, look at paintings they mention having seen.  I do my best to immerse myself in the historical figure's life and world as much as possible.  From this research, I like to add little details in my dress and setting as little treats in each program that scholars or real fans of the character will notice, even if I never refer to them in the performance.  For example, my Jane Austen always wears a replica of the topaz cross that was given to her by her brother Charles, and the dress I commissioned for my Charlotte is based on her "Thackery dress" in the collection of the Brontë Parsonage Museum.
I have a playlist for each of the characters I portray of music they mention in their letters, other music of the era, and any songs that remind me of them.  I listen to that collection of music before each performance, and that helps me be taken back to that headspace and into their world.
To start writing, I choose a dramatic moment in the life of the person so that something active is calling them to look back over their life.  I want the humanity of the character to come through in my portrayals, in addition to the facts of their life.  I think it's important to convey that these were living, breathing, fallible, caring, inspiring real people.  In my programs, I want history to come off the page and into people's lives.

Friday, February 11, 2022

7 Questions with Jennifer Woronow, the Jaunty Crow


Jen Woronow is a trained artist, terrorism studies scholar, and creator of The Jaunty Crow, a digital humanities and social science brand promoting trans-disciplinary discussion. She explores historic and contemporary conflicts with an emphasis on examining the human side of war.








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

I didn’t truly become interested in history until about my junior year of college. Before that, high school was a lot of memorizing dates, completing worksheets, and regurgitating information for exams. As an art student studying illustration at the Rhode Island School of Design, I had a certain number of art history and humanities credits I had to fulfill. One of my favorite classes was an art history course called “Art and Totalitarianism.” The course focused on the propaganda techniques, primarily poster art and film, of regimes such as Nazi Germany, Stalinist USSR, Mussolini’s Italy, Maoist China, and McCarthy “Red Scare” era America. This was such a fascinating subject taught by a great instructor. I was also taking a Third Reich history class the same semester to further my understanding of totalitarian control techniques. 

Another course which got me hooked on history was an English elective on modernist poetry. It was the first time I was exposed to the work of Wilfred Owen and I remember “Dulce et Decorum est” giving me chills when I read it. Owen was really my gateway into the cultural history of the first world war. His poetry also got me interested in the art of the post-war period depicted in German Expressionism and New Objectivity, a movement largely founded by WWI veteran painters like Max Beckman, Otto Dix, and George Grosz.

(Irregular Warfare I,  original work)

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

History plays an important role in my personal life. I enjoy watching documentaries about WWI, WWII, and counterterrorism related topics. I’ve spent many weekends visiting historical sites and museums. My most recent favorite was visiting Ottawa, Ontario to experience my first Remembrance Day ceremony and see the Canadian War Museum. Over a year ago, I decided to merge my interests in international security, military history, and art into my own digital humanities and social science brand. I frequently blog about the places I’ve visited and concepts they inspire. It’s one of my decompressing, after work activities. 

A hugely unexpected outcome of my interest in history and personal branding was meeting the love of my life. During the very nascent beginnings of The Jaunty Crow, I was also regularly tuning into live streams by John Heckman, better known as The Tattooed Historian. I admired his boldly innovative way of thinking and humble authenticity. We got to talking and the connection was practically instantaneous. Nearly one year after our first date in a historic cemetery, John asked me to marry him and I said yes! Never in a million years did I expect to find a life partner during a pandemic by pursuing my nerdy interests!

(at the Americans in Wartime Museum 2021 Tank Farm Open House)

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

History featured prominently for my graduate degree research in International Security Studies, sometimes called Defense and Strategic Studies, depending on the program. I read many background cases for various conflicts as a means of contextualizing contemporary issues and thinking about possible policy recommendations for them. In addition to the typical class readings, I accessed primary sources containing first-hand accounts as well as unclassified government documents. I intended to start a career as a Target Analyst in the US Intelligence Community at the time. Having knowledge of what came before, what exists now, and what may come next is important in that field. 

Instead of working for the IC, I ended up employed at the National Institutes of Health as a Program Analyst in 2016. Although my job duties don’t specifically draw upon historical knowledge, the NIH is a historic place. Their National Library of Medicine is an excellent resource of medical history and has a wonderful digital humanities collection. I was recently invited to contribute to their blog, Circulating Now, as a guest blogger as a way to put my historical knowledge to use. I’m very excited for the opportunity and look forward to writing something in the new year.

(Page from sketchbook)

4. Why is studying/knowing history important?

I come to history as someone with an interest in conflict and force. I am someone who studies war between state and non-state actors such as armed militant groups. From that I have learned that in order to create a world without war, we must first understand what causes it as well as the human and cultural toll of war itself. It’s necessary to rigorously investigate why ordinary people are capable of doing unthinkable things. What compels neighbors to take up arms against neighbors?

In my opinion, everything operates within a contextual framework. In other words, conflicts are not a fixed historical point but instead operate along a continuum often rooted in various kinds of systemic, structural violence. I want people to know about historical events while also considering that larger context containing those systems. 

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

I tend to bounce around between research topics but if I had to pick the few that I go to most often, they’d be WWI, the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki Japan, and post-9/11 Global War on Terror conflicts. WWI gave birth to much of the art and culture which inspires me. The advent of the atomic age interests me because it was such a crucial lynchpin in history. The development and detonation of the atomic bomb opened the Pandora’s Box of nuclear armament and proliferation which we’re still dealing with today. 

I was 18 on the terrible day two planes crashed into the World Trade Center. I personally know people who served in both Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom. They will never be the same because of that. September 11th and the Global War on Terror defined my later teen years as well as my adulthood. But for a younger generation, this has little relevance. It lacks a meaningful context. They don’t remember the before times. They don’t understand why a series of terrorist attacks significantly impacted a whole generation. This is why I must help tell that story. The US occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan may have ended, but the Global War on Terror never really did. A major paradigm shift is still playing out in the present.

(Jen with a Reaper drone at the Smithsonian National Space Museum)

6.        How did you become the Jaunty Crow and what’s your focus?

My brand is made to bridge the divide between art and military studies, past and present, civilians and service members. I talk about the human side of The Global War on Terror and conflicts which came before it. Why The Jaunty Crow? Crows are highly intelligent creatures that work together to form a network of information. They are adept problem solvers and tool users. Like crows, we can learn and have fun doing it. It’s also worth noting that my last name which is Woronow, Voronova in the original Russian, means crow or raven. My family crest even has two crows on it! Aside from all that, The Jaunty Crow was just silly enough to suit my personality but just relevant enough to capture the main ideas of the brand.

7. What do you hope audiences and followers of your social media take away from their interactions with you and your work?

I want to promote trans-disciplinary discussion between fields and people that don’t typically interact. The overlap between counterterrorism studies, military history, and art is my way of humanizing past and present conflict. There’s so many people who approach history from a tactical perspective. I wanted to do something different, especially since my education and career trajectory has been different.

My hope is for people to engage with the content by seeking out one particular field or topic and discovering something they weren’t expecting. Perhaps someone visits my brand looking for information on WWI and comes away knowing about an artist or musician they never knew about. In doing so, they broaden their understanding about how they view conflict. I mostly want to make people think. I want people to come away asking themselves interesting and important questions.

Friday, February 4, 2022

7 Questions with Jennifer Bennie, "Walk With History" on YouTube and "Talk With History" Podcast


Jennifer Bennie, of the YouTube Channel “Walk with History” also the podcast “Talk with History,” is a former Naval Aviator turned historian.  After earning a Masters of American History from the University of Memphis with the GI Bill, her research resulted in the dedication of a historic marker in downtown Memphis memorializing the first documented lynching to occur in Memphis on January 1st 1851.  She currently is a museum attendant at the MacArthur Memorial in Norfolk, Virginia.  New episodes of “Walk with History” and “Talk with History” are published every week. 

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

I was very interested in history when I got my undergrad 20+ years ago at Penn State University, so much so that I got a minor in History.  However, I really got “hooked” on history when I went into the US Navy right after graduation.  I wanted to learn more about the history of the Navy, which led to opening more doors to learn about American History, especially as I traveled overseas. I really wanted to understand more about the dynamics I found myself in with present politics and how the past impacted that.  I was lucky that I was able to use my GI Bill and pursue a Master’s Degree in American History, that has only allowed for more in-depth learning and understanding of history.   


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


History is part of my personal life as filming for the “Walk with History” YouTube channel is done, for the most part, with my family, and we make it a family day when we film.  My husband does some of the filming, all the editing, and my kids love to hear the stories.  We usually make an adventure of it, go on a road trip, bring lunch, and all learn about something historic as we film for the channel.  The kids have loved going to Colonial Williamsburg, Arlington National Cemetery, and Jimmy Stewart’s hometown of Indiana Pennsylvania to just name a few.   


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

For my professional career, I work as Museum Attendant at the historic location where General MacArthur is entombed as well as it is a museum dedicated to his story.  The MacArthur Memorial is located in the old city hall building of Norfolk, Virginia and there are nine galleries that house the artifacts of his life.  From his parents, West Point, WWI, WWII, Korea and after, the memorial does a great job of trying to explain who this complex military leader was as well as his impact on history.   


4.          Why is studying/knowing history important? 

I believe studying history is important to understand where we find ourselves in the present.  I also believe you must start from a place of truth to really know where you are and where you are going.  That was one of the reasons for “Walk with History” to build public trust with the truth of what really happened in historic locations while taking the viewer to see that real life location.   


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

I pursued a Masters in American History because I love to learn about the past events that happened in America.  I like to take my YouTube viewers to the locations where the giants of history walked before us.  My favorite though would have to be colonial times, mostly because America was so new.  I like to learn how the foundations of the country were made, why and by who.  It really interests me to see all the moving parts with how direct and indirect power were taking hold of a young nation.   


6.        How did Walk With History get started? 

“Walk with History” was started when I took a break from social media.  There was so much untruth online, and I wanted to get the “noise” out of my head.  I had more free time which led to wondering if people had gone to different historic locations and what they looked like today.  I got on YouTube, looking things up I wanted to see, etc. and noticed that either no one had filmed a video at that location, or if a person had filmed a video, they did not do a good job of relaying the history for the viewer.  So I approached the topic with my husband, Scott, since he had been doing a family YouTube channel for a couple of years.  He thought it was a great idea, we started collaborating and we have been doing it ever since.  It will be a year in April 2022.  We have committed to being consistent and have done one episode a week.  We do all types of historic topics, movies, true crime, cemeteries, Civil Rights, Presidents, etc.  Anything that I would be interested to watch is usually what we film.   


7.      What’s been your favorite site visit so far? What’s something on your bucket list of sites? 

So far, my favorite site to visit has been Maureen O’Hara’s grave at Arlington National Cemetery, it was such an honor to be there.  I was such a fan of her movies.  I also was really excited to stand on Jimmy Stewart’s porch of his family home.  You can see me kind of freak out our YouTube video from his hometown.  “It’s a Wonderful Life” is my favorite movie of all time.  I really enjoyed taking my kids to “Washington Crossing” and “Yorktown” to talk about the battles that took place to change the tides of the American Revolution.  I did a 3-part series on Emmett Till, and that was very hard emotionally to film but I felt it was so important to share.  I had done a lot of research in that case, and I wanted my viewers to see exactly where those horrible events took place, but mostly to remember he is never forgotten.  The one place I cannot wait to visit is Monument Valley in Utah.  I want to recreate some scenes of my favorite western “The Searchers” and just to be in that area to give some attention to the lives of American Indians.  I also cannot wait to take my family to “The Battle of Little Big Horn” to show them that location and what happened there with Custer’s last stand.