Learning, and living, history

Plans are in the works for a WSU public history field school in the historic mining town and former capital of Montana Territory, Virginia City, Mont. Virginia City is located about an hour southeast of Butte and an hour southwest of Bozeman.
The field school, with its first class of approximately 20 graduate students tentatively scheduled for May 7-25, 2007, will be a partnership between WSU and the Montana Heritage Commission. Students will receive training in various areas, including: ethnography; archaeology; museum and archives; historic structures; cultural landscapes and history.
Leading the work for WSU are Orlan Svingen, associate professor of history, and Rob McCoy, assistant professor of history. Both specialize in public history, which emphasizes the public context of historical scholarship.

Enhancing the experience
Although its population peaked at 10,000 in 1865, Virginia City is now home to 150 year-round residents. They and the Montana Heritage Commission sponsor throughout the summer living history re-enactments, a fully functioning railway linking Virginia City with nearby Nevada City, interpretive activities and public programs.

The heritage commission wants to expand the Virginia City experience, and a WSU-sponsored public history field school will provide a collaborative setting that will attract graduate students and future scholarship. Commission specialists working at Virginia City will provide hands-on public history training in areas such as museum curation, historic building stabilization, historic archaeology, education curation, creation of historic interpretive exhibits and cultural landscape assessment. 

The field school will enhance WSU graduate students’ program of study, Svingen said.
It will be open to graduate students throughout the Pacific Northwest region, who also can earn WSU summer school credits. The Montana Heritage Commission will provide student housing, and course fees will cover lodging and meals, McCoy said.

For more information, e-mail rmccoy@wsu.edu or svingen@wsu.edu.

Boomtown, to ghost town, to treasure trove of history 
Virginia City was platted on June 16, 1863, after the discovery of gold in Alder Gulch. By the 1880s, most of the independent miners had moved on and work in the fields fell to mining corporations. By World War II, Virginia City had very few residents and was on the brink of becoming a ghost town.

The town averted this through the efforts of Charles and Sue Bovey. The Boveys reconstructed buildings and amassed what may be the largest collection of historical materials dealing with the American West outside of the Smithsonian Institution.

Virginia City was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1961 and listed on the National Register in 1976. In 1997, the State of Montana acquired the site from the Bovey family and established the Montana Heritage Preservation and Development Commission to maintain and run the sites at Virginia City and nearby Nevada City.
Nestled in the 14-mile Alder Gulch drainage of the Rocky Mountains, at an elevation of 5,771 feet, the gold mining site attracts annually in excess of 70,000 visitors.

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