When I was in middle school, we were given an assignment that is now considered inappropriate: we were asked to trace our family history or genealogy as a way to help understand historical time, stories of immigration, and the ways in which we are all American (according to the then-prevalent “melting pot” model of being American). Exercises like that are now discouraged as educators recognize the myriad ways in which people form families, though in my middle school, what was revealed was not adoptions or absent parents but the yawning chasm of class and privilege. My people are more peasant than princess, so the women I portray in living history make sense to me. They don’t wear silk. They make things, and they sell things.
Portraying a refugee was a little trickier to wrap my head around. Whiny I can do– if I wasn’t teaching workshops in New Jersey this November, I’d be in 1587 North Carolina pining for England and wondering why I didn’t listen to my mother instead of marrying that head-in-the-sky Virginia colonist. What made being a refugee tricky for me was finding something to do. Obviously I shared in the cooking chores and the walk to Augustus Lutheran Church, but projecting “refugee” was tricky for me.
Looking back, I can see that straggling after a militia company may well have been enough– not wanting to leave their “protection,” not having a place to be, illustrates displacement. Even dressed as a middle-class or lower-middle-class woman, I am out of place sitting on grass or following armed men.
Displacement: I had not previously considered this as a means of provoking informed interpretation. Interpreting lack or absence can be as effective as interpreting presence. “No shoes” or “no musket:” these are easier, more obvious, but as a refugee, I had no home, no place, and no belonging. That seems even more important to understand and interpret today, at least for those of us concerned with making the past present, and the ways we can study the past to understand the present.