A neat way to teach history

30 Oct

Located in rural Woodstock, Billings Farm & Museum offers visitors a chance to experience farm life as it was 100 years ago. The site includes pastureland for sheep, horses, and cows; animal barns; an orchard and garden; an 1890 farmhouse; wagon barn; and a visitor center. Vermont farm life exhibits include haying, milking, butter making, maple sugaring, machine threshing, grain harvest, and more.

David Miles (MA ’81 history) is Billings Farm & Museum’s director of interpretation and education.

“This is a pretty neat way to teach history,” he says.

David pursued his graduate education at Iowa State partly because he wanted to live in an area of the country he hadn’t experienced before (he had lived in Delaware and several other states) and partly because Iowa State offered him a 12-month assistantship: six months teaching on campus and six months at Living History Farms in Des Moines.

“I enjoyed the teaching assistantship, but at Living History Farms I was still teaching but to a different audience,” he says. “It was a learning experience and also a fun experience. I was captivated by it right away.”

He spent 15 years at Living History Farms, where he met his future wife, Donna Wishman Miles (’81 craft design). The couple moved to Vermont for his job at Billings 20 years ago.

David has discovered that not only do many visitors not know much about farming 100 years ago, they also don’t know very much about modern agriculture.

“I find that I’m teaching modern agriculture on a history farm,” he says. Unlike a generation or two ago, “you just don’t SEE farming today.”

Today David spends much of his time in an administrative role and working with schoolteachers. But during the fall foliage season, when he says it’s “all hands on deck,” David finds himself giving tours, talking to older adults who arrive on tour buses, and teaching children such skills as the lost art of split-rail-fence building. During peak season, Billings Farm & Museum has as many as 1200 visitors a day.

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