Thursday, July 7, 2011

New Tales for Old History

When my family and I took a vacation to southwestern Colorado last month, some of the practiced tour guides were as captivating as the sites. They taught us how to mine for gold with dynamite, showed us the house in which Larry Byrd built (make that blasted) a wine cellar out of granite, and took us on the train responsible for reintroducing big horn sheep to the region. They prevented an hour-and-a-half trek up the mountainside from feeling like the week-long haul that it was before the highway was built. Even my 13-year-old was engaged, educated, and amused.

With this experience fresh in my mind, this story about Scotland’s efforts “to train young tour guides in the art of storytelling” caught my attention. What I loved most were these words:
David Hicks, from the Edinburgh World Heritage Trust, said that teenage tour leaders could offer a new perspective on the city’s 900 years of history. He said: ‘In a historic city like Edinburgh guides are telling stories about it on a daily basis, since as far back as the 1840s, so you end up getting a set story. I think the really important thing is it’s got 900 years of history and you don’t have to stick to the standard tales I’m hoping these young people can unearth something or ask a question about something that’s right under our noses. It’s good to look these things with fresh eyes.’”
One of our guides in Colorado was a college student. Rather than talking at us over a microphone, he mingled one-on-one with passengers in our train car. Toward the end of the three-plus-hour journey, he and I talked for a half hour about his life in the area and his local activities as an outdoorsman, student, and photographer. He’s about to embark on a year-long trek to Argentina, where he’s made arrangements to work on a small farm. It was a change of pace from the more traditional memorized stories and canned jokes, better in some ways if lacking in others, but I was glad to have met him and caught a glimpse of his home—from his perspective.

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