Saturday, March 15, 2014

Living History with William Kashatus

I first came across the work of William Kashatus when I won a copy of his book Almost a Dynasty: The Rise and Fall of the 1980s Phillies in a University of Pennsylvania Press contest.  Kashatus is a great writer and historian, but I hope he will not be offended if I say that I had a hard time reading the book.  I am a Mets fan :-)

Kashatus, a history professor at Luzerne County (PA) Community College, is not just interested in baseball.  He also does presentations and performances dressed as William Penn for schools, Quakers meetings, and retirement centers. On March 9, 2014 he played Penn at Harrisburg's Charter Day.

Kashatus entertains and inspires his audiences in different ways: for students he often "plans Pennsylvania" with them. He wonders what to bring to his new land and what kind of government he should establish. For adult audiences, Kashatus often discusses Penn's Quakerism and the proprietor's hopes for a "Holy Experiment" in Pennsylvania.

Here is a taste of an article about Kashatus (and Penn) from the Wilkes-Barre Times-Leader:

Kashatus does not cut any corners in his portrayal of Penn. The costume is based off the only surviving suit of Penn’s clothing that his housed in the Museum in London. Kashatus even had it made to specification by a colonial costume designer.
Compared to other people he portrays, Kashatus said Penn is not intimidating. He described him as “somewhat aloof because of his intelligence” and an “elitest” due to his background, but he said people seem to like his performance.

The audience can still make a human connection with him, something that Kashatus said was important in producing living history.

I can testify to the influence that these kinds of presentations have on school children.  My oldest daughter developed a passion for history when a staff member from a local historical society came to her elementary school with a chest of Civil War-era clothes and let the students wear them.  She is in high school now, but to this day she talks about the presentation.  She has even thought about starting a small history-related business some day.

(Thanks to Megan Piette for help with this post).