STILLPOINT Archive: last updated 05/25/2012

Living the History: People, Places and Connections

A history major himself, Prof. David Goss has spent the past 12 years building a new emphasis at Gordon on public history. Along the way, he’s gotten the College deeply and creatively involved in the unfolding history of Boston’s North Shore.

by David Goss '74

After careful preparation, the College launched Museum Studies and Public History in 2008, a new history-oriented concentration and minor, bringing history students into direct contact with greater-Boston area museums and history sites.

Here are some of the key players, events and places involved in this exciting new emphasis at Gordon. 


K. David Goss '74 teaches courses in museum management and public history and supervises the program, as well as supervising museum internships for Gordon history majors at locations including the Peabody-Essex Museum, the Beverly Historical Society, the Wenham Museum and the U.S. National Park Service.

Gordon students gain direct experience working at several museums in the area including the Peabody-Essex Museum’s conservation department. Gordon students are thus being trained for possible careers as public history professionals, from museum administrators to curators and archivists, museum educators and interpreters/guides at historic sites.

The Loring Fellowships, funded by Caleb Loring, Jr., Caleb Loring III and Bonny Loring '87, provide significant financial assistance each year to a student, enabling them to research, write and publish a monograph focusing upon American economic history.

Connecting the dots

Gordon’s Provost Mark Sargent brought David Goss together with Kristina Wacome-Stevick '98, artistic director of the "History Alive!" theatre company based at Old Salem Town Hall, asking them to bring together Gordon’s successful historical interpretive and theatrical program with a museum-based public history program.

At the same time the City of Salem, Massachusetts announced that it would request proposals from any institutions interested in managing the city-owned Old Town Hall and Pioneer Village facilities. The Institute for Public History submitted an application requesting a contract with the city to manage each historic site and was approved for both. In this way, the Gordon Institute for Public History was created and provided with two historic sites in Salem, Massachusetts to serve as learning labs for history and communication/theater students interested in pursuing careers in historic interpretation, museum education or public history.

The Salem Museum

Working with the City of Salem and Great Island Design, the Institute in 2011 created the Salem Museum on the lower level of Old Town Hall, with exhibits telling the story of Salem from its founding in 1626 to the 20th century. Themes include: "Early Colonial Life," "The Salem Witch Trials," "Salem and the American Revolution," "Salem and the China Trade," "Salem and the India Trade," "Nathaniel Hawthorne," "Salem and the Civil War," and "The Great Salem Fire of 1914." An important part of the museum’s public offerings will be education programs developed in conjunction with Massachusetts guidelines for local schools and a website designed to allow visitors to further explore the exhibition themes in greater depth.

The Patton Project

Now in its fifth year, the Patton Project was developed in close collaboration with Joanne H. Patton, widow of General George S. Patton, Jr., son of the famous World War II general, who himself served in the Vietnam conflict.

This experience connects Gordon history student-interns with a vast collection of military, family, business and personal documents held at the Patton Family estate in South Hamilton, located ten minutes from the Gordon campus. This program, underwritten by Mrs. Patton, trains archive interns to use "Past Perfect"—state-of-the-art archival software—in developing a catalog database for the collection. All of the interns in this program, and over twenty Gordon students have already participated, are supervised on site by Carol Mori, a professional archivist.

Old Salem Town Hall

The 1816 Old Town Hall structure is an architectural gem located at Derby Square in the heart of downtown Salem. Since assuming management of the building the Institute for Public History has raised over $300,000 in grants from the State of Massachusetts and the National Trust for Historic Preservation. The result has been a new heating system, making the building usable year-round, and general refurbishing, to make the structure attractive as a venue for concerts, exhibitions, weddings and other special events. These provide a growing source of income for the Old Town Hall facility and income for the IPH.

Pioneer Village: Salem in 1630

Located on Salem Harbor within Salem’s Forest River Park, "Pioneer Village: Salem in 1630" is a recreation of the Salem community as it might have appeared at the time of the arrival of Governor John Winthrop in June of 1630. Built originally in 1930 as Salem’s contribution to the Massachusetts Tercentenary, and featuring seven reproduction 17th century-style structures, this living history site tells the story of the founding of Salem, the first capital of the Massachusetts Bay Colony. Today, the Institute for Public History operates the site from June through October hosting school groups and other visitors. Here, Gordon students work during the summer as paid museum guides dressed in 17th century period clothing, gaining hands-on experience in historic-site interpretation.

History Alive!

Old Salem Town Hall is the primary venue for Gordon College’s professional theatre company, History Alive!, performances of Prof. Mark Stevick’s play Cry Innocent. From July through October the cast of Cry Innocent presents an interactive drama drawn directly from the pages of 1692 court records, telling the story of Bridget Bishop, the first person to be hanged for witchcraft in Salem. Audiences hear witnesses and testimony concerning Bridget, then actively cross-examine the characters and render a verdict. Cry Innocent is entering its twentieth season at Old Town Hall in Salem, and has become widely recognized as the most authentic public presentation concerning the Salem witchcraft episode.

The Institute for Public History is providing a variety of exciting opportunities for internships, student employment and professional training to prepare Gordon College students for careers in public history and museums.

A 1974 Gordon College history graduate, David Goss returned to Gordon College in 2000 after a 25-year career in museum administration as director of bicentennial programs at Salem Maritime National Historic Site; director of education of the Essex Institute (now the Peabody-Essex Museum); museum director of the House of Seven Gables; and executive director of the Beverly Historical Society and Museum.

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