A tick-ing problem in living history…

Bruises, bumps, scrapes, sore muscles, sunburn, windburn, chapped skin, blisters, an occasional dislocation, joint twist, strain or sprain…. Those body issues probably sound familiar when doing manual labor of living history interpretation or historical farming.

ticksHowever in the last few years, a new adventure has arisen: bacteria. In the last few years, bacteria and viruses carried by ticks and other insects have required the need for additional attention, using modern-day eyes to fight illnesses that would have put our historical fore-parents down, stopping their traditional work and harming their homesteads.

Sarah Cooper of Columbia, MD knows these bacteria well. Unknowingly she was bitten by a tick while working at the Claude Moore Colonial Farm in McLean VA, while working as one of the 18th-century farmers. Her bad experience can guide to protecting your health and safety.

One November day, Sarah found a dessert-plate sized target shaped rash on her back. Although she always wore long 18th century petticoats, layers of clothes, and high socks as all the literature on preventing tick-borne disease had warned, Sarah knew that rashes were a a bad sign, so she went to an urgent care facility. She had no health insurance and she hoped that the urgent care doctors could diagnose her symptoms. The Lyme disease tests were negative; however Sarah came down with weeks of flu-like symptoms that laid her very low.

Little did Sarah know that new tick bites do not produce enough antibodies to show up as a “positive” for the Lyme tests.

Still ill longer than she expected for a typical illness, Sarah visited a different urgent care facility; this new facility doctor told Sarah that she never tested for Lyme when there is a rash and patients describe working or playing in woods-like or farm settings. She immediately put Sarah on 2 weeks of antibiotics. Sarah felt better soon, but within six months, the symptoms returned.

It’s been several years now; Sarah is still plagued with fatigue, exhaustion and other issues that developed during the initial Lyme illness. To this day she is still going to rounds of doctors seeking solutions. Said again: years later, Sarah – like many people affected by Lyme disease – is still affected by the after-effects of tick-borne bacteria that she received years ago. Although Sarah has switched to working at a different historical agricultural park, insect-related health issues happen: She was bitten by a spider within the last couple of weeks.

TickLifeCycleLyme disease, Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, (RMSP) and ehrlichiosis, are all carried by ticks, but different ticks. All of these diseases need at least several hours for an attached tick to release its bacteria; one source says that that bacteria that cause Lyme disease can be transmitted if a tick is attached for at least 24 hours. Lyme is common while RMSF is rare; yet Lyme Disease symptoms mimic a simple illness, yet possibly affect the brain, nervous system, eyes, joints, and heart. Often there are shooting pains, insomnia, and – as some report – an inability to read. Lyme Disease is most prevalent in the New England, Mid- and South-Atlantic, and Upper Midwest. (Canadian Lyme information is here.)

A good overview of tick-borne diseases – and how ticks plan their attack – is here.

Because we are all a family of living history specialists working most often at outdoor sites, Sarah recommends several easy precautions to counter the threat of Lyme disease. These precautions are:

  1. Check yourself with a mirror, or have a buddy help check your entire body each day after exiting tall grasses, fields, or woods areas in spring, summer, and fall. Do not leave the site unless you check your entire skin and scalp as well as the skin crevices that they prefer. If you forget to check yourself, that may be the day that a tick attaches itself to you. Ticks crawl, so they may enter at your sock but also find their way inside your stays, corset, or drawers.
  2. Cut a short walking path through long grasses such as rye, wheat, or weeds. Ticks crawl from grasses onto their prey, but they don’t jump. Make sure that you can walk through your fields and areas without touching the grasses. You can even make this one of your farm duties by cutting paths during a farm day with a scythe.
  3. Try to limit your time in tall grasses as much as possible, if possible – and be ready to inspect yourself and your buddy after your grass adventures.
  4. Wear caps as much as possible. Ticks crawl but they don’t jump, so there is a reduced possibility for ticks to attach themselves to your scalp unless you bend your covered head into the grasses.
  5. If you do get a tick from your site and see a doctor, immediately report it to your site in order to file for Worker’s Compenstation. Many sites have no- or low-health insurance, yet the doctors bills can add up – especially if the disease becomes into a chronic illness. Check with your states’laws on the statutes, such as this information on Lyme disease, ticks, and Worker’s Compensation.
  6. Insist on a test for lyme disease or Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever when you see the doctor, even if you don’t have typical symtoms for either disease. If you work outdoors, especially in grasses, you have high risk factors for tick-borne bacterial diseases.
  7. Insist that your site provide a DEET insecticide spray for its staff. It’s better to provide for all staff members by making DEET part of site provisions. However if your site won’t provide DEET, make sure that you buy your own DEET and apply it every day that you are outdoors in tall grasses, fields, or woods. If you are allergic to DEET, consult your health care provider for effective alternatives.
  8. Removing the tick: If you do find an attached tick, use a tweezer, or one of the new technology of tick-removal devices: Tick-Twister, Tick Key or  Tick Card (available in the UK, Europe and Australia) to remove the tick fully and completely.
  9. Do your homework on what ticks, biting insects, and arachnids are in your area. Check with your state Cooperative Extension Service or use the following links:


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The Dreaded Performance Review


Is your institution still stuck in the cycle of the dreaded, annual performance review? I am afraid mine still is, and frankly it’s awful. (I am sure some of my coworkers reading this will rat me out. It’s okay the Boss knows how I feel.) I agree with a Washington Post business writer who called it a “rite of corporate kabuki that restricts creativity, generates mountains of paperwork, and serves no real purpose.“

It is time to leave these reviews in the last century where they belong. This focus on past behavior does little to improve performance, groom talent, or prepare for the future. Who feels good after a performance review? The answer is usually no one—not the reviewer or the employee. I have never really felt happy about a performance review even when the employee received an outstanding one. How do you compress what they accomplished in a whole year into a form with all the right boxes filled in? Certainly, if there is a problem with performance there must be ongoing discussions about the problem and how to correct it. So why wait a year to handout praise?

Need a review? Google “performance reviews,” and you will find “100 Useful Phrases for Performance Reviews.” Certainly makes completing that HR paperwork much easier, but serves no other purpose. There is also the problem of inconsistent evaluation throughout the institution. We all know the managers that give everyone the top performance ranking even to obviously under performing employees, and then there are the managers that take a harder line. A study reported in the Journal of Applied Psychology in 2000 documented this problem. 4,492 managers were rated on performance by two bosses, two peers, and two subordinates. Individual rater peculiarities of perception accounted for 62% of the variance in the rating. Actual performance accounted for only 21%. It seems that ratings reveal more about the rater than the ratee.

A system that gives more immediate, less judgmental feedback improves both the manager and the employee. The art of conversation goes a long way. Have more casual conversations about progress, problems, and individual goals. As a manager I feel much better about these conversations–the “great job” ones and the “need to work on this” ones. I think the employee does too. Talent is in short supply and recruiting and training is expensive. We need to invest in developing people rather than just seeking to hold them accountable.

What do you think? Does your institution have a really good system?

–Kathy Dickson

ALHFAM board member Kathy Dickson is the director of Museums and Historic Sites for the Oklahoma Historical Society. She stumbled into the museum field over 30 years ago and never left.

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Livestock Care in Museums


Oxen from Howell Living History Farm being used at Colonial Pennsylvania Plantation

Recently a dedicated group of ALHFAM members, primarily from the Farm Professional Interest Group, took the time to develop and/or revise three documents relating to the use of livestock in museum settings.

They are:

Position statement on the Use of Livestock in Museum Settings (2016)

Adopted by the board in 2016, this document clarifies ALHFAM’s official position on the use of livestock in museum settings

Livestock Care in Museums (2016)

A “guidance” document intended for individual site’s resource and risk assessment when developing livestock programs and management plans/policies.

Handling Public Concerns on the Use of Livestock in Museum Settings (2016)

This document provides guidelines to help museums using livestock address and respond to public concerns regarding this practice

All documents are available via the links above or on the ALHFAM website.

Many thanks to Deb Arenz, Jon Kuester, Deb Reid, Jim Slining, Sean O’Herron, Barbara Corson, Jim Lauderdale, and Tom Kelleher for their work on this project.


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It’s #MuseumSelfie Day! Did you know?

The times they have a-changed since I started working in museums 20 or so years ago. Back then, “No Photography” signs were the norm (copyright and preservation issues). Then came the “No Flash Photography” signs (preservation issues). Now many museums have abandoned the signs altogether and are holding Instameets and setting up Selfie Stations.

Museums offer people the opportunity to see and sometimes interact with objects, people, ideas, and techniques that are inspirational to them, so why not let them share their enthusiasm with the world via a selfie! Let selfie behavior help you. How and where selfies are taken can be an indicator of the most powerful and effective experiences your museum offers. Many are funny and clever and when they’re shared on social media they publicize the museum in an organic, grassroots way.

How has your museum embraced “selfie culture?” Share your ideas and maybe a selfie or two.

–Deb Arenz


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Guerrilla Volunteer Appreciation


As 2017 starts afresh, many of us are in the position of tallying, tabulating, and filling out end of year reports for 2016. In particular, I’m working on making sure every single one of our volunteer’s hours were tracked and recorded. As I do so I’m also thinking about how we’re going to show our gratitude for all these individuals spending so much time supporting our museum. Since many of you may find yourself in a similar position, I thought I’d share with you what we did last April in the form of Volunteer Appreciation.

We told our volunteers we were going to have a nice reception with nibbles and cheese at the Historical Park. At the reception we’d pass out our usual volunteer awards, watch our traditional slide show of the year’s activities and then all troop on over to City Hall together to be recognized by the City Council and Mayor. We did do all of that, and it was lovely. But what we didn’t tell the volunteers was that the week before their appreciation event we were going to visit their homes and leave a sign in their front yard which advertised to all of their friends, family, and neighbors what a great job they did at the Historical Park. We called it “guerrilla appreciation” and it was a huge hit.

There were eight different varieties of sign, each a riff on the phrase “An AMAZING Historical Park Volunteer Lives Here!” Some signs said STUPENDOUS, and some said MARVELOUS, but all were well-received. Before we’d even put out half the signs we were inundated with emails and messages from the volunteers. They took photos with the signs, posted them on Facebook, and even moved them so they’d be displayed more prominently in their yards. It also built excitement for the evening of awards and appetizers and turned what could have been a slightly boring awards event into an exciting celebration as volunteers retold their stories of how they’d discovered the sign, and what their loved ones had said about it.


The whole process was also a good team building event for our staff. We broke up into teams of two to go and deliver signs, each team taking a section of the city. It’s particularly fun to spend a whole day with your coworkers covertly placing signs in people’s yards.

An added bonus was that I was able to really understand how far some of our volunteers travel every day to volunteer with us. One of our most reliable volunteers (and one who is consistently in the upper percentile of volunteer hours donated) lives almost 45 minutes away and comes as many as 3 days a week through Dallas workweek traffic to spend a morning with us. Amazing! Some of our volunteers still have those signs displayed in their yards, even 8 months later. Hopefully, they remind the neighbors how great our friends are, but also that our Museum is still around and treats its volunteers well…


If you are considering your own form of guerrilla appreciation, I should warn you that there was some expense and time involved. Covertly verifying the addresses of the volunteers, mapping them, and organizing a team to go deliver the signs took a little while. The signs themselves were also an expense, although by ordering 80 we were able to get a discount through a friendly print shop.

All told, it was one of the most successful volunteer appreciation stunts our Park has ever pulled. And now I’m pulling out my hair trying to think of something just as good to do this year. Ideas, anyone?

-Danielle R. Brissette, ALHFAM member and  Museum Educator at Farmers Branch Historical Park, Farmers Branch, Texas

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Plough Monday: Jan 9

Since we have many religions, traditions, nationalities and faiths, it’s hard to keep up on ones that our own faith tradition do not fall under.

But as we delve into our new year, let us enjoy one tradition – maybe we can turn it towards multi-denomination: “Plough Monday” (In 2017: Jan 9), a tradition from England complete with dancing, a form of trick-or-treat, and costumes.

Can we history, heritage, and tradition-oriented sites start a new pre-season tradition?

Read on to learn more about how the new season might be blessed:

The medieval faithful people would bring their ploughs, seeds, and implements to church for blessings on the human labor and its tools for season to come. (Church of England, Seasons and Festivals of the Agricultural Year, p.597)

In the medieval period, when there was only one plough in each village, the village plough was brought into church for a blessing before ploughing began in Plough Monday.  By Victorian times, when many farms owned their own plough, a representative plough was brought into church and local farmers asked the Rector or Vicar to bless the plough.

ploughmondayAfter the blessing, the plough was traditionally pulled through the village led by a Fool and a ‘Betsy’ (a boy dressed as a woman).  The procession stopped at as many pubs and friendly houses as possible for revellers to demand drinks.  Pennies were also collected along the route.  Anyone not paying a penny was likely to find a furrow cut across their land by morning.  (Church of England, Diocese of Chester, “Plough Sunday”)

But why would men dress as a woman for this tradition?

It is traditional for one man in each Plough Monday gathering to dress as the ‘Bessy’, an old woman who we can link firmly to pagan goddess celebrations: she is the personification of the hag, the old woman of winter who, in the seasonal round of the year, will transform come spring into the virginal young goddess (From Convivio Press)

(Note how the name Betsy and Bessy are similar in the two sources)

Here’s how our North American  Old Farmer’s Almanac described it:

The first Monday after Epiphany (January 6) was the day for the menfolk to return to work after the holidays – although no work was actually done on this day. Dressed in clean white smocks decorated with ribbons, the men dragged a plow (plough) through the village and collected money for the “plow light” that was kept burning in the church all year. Often men from several farms joined together to pull the plow through all their villages. … In the evening, each farmer provided a Plough Monday supper for his workers, with plentiful beef and ale for all.


Dancing was always part of festivities. Plough Monday also had its own specialized version of Morris dancers, complete with disguised faces:

Molly dancing was performed by East Anglian farmworkers in the middle of winter. The style of dance we teach is therefore heavy, earthy and powerful, based on a simple “step-hop”, ideally danced in heavy work-boots. The original “ploughboys” blackened their faces as a disguise to escape recognition and the consequences of their mischievous actions.  (http://heritagealive.weebly.com/molly-dancing.html)

mollydancersIn the past, Molly dancers sometimes accompanied the farm labourers to dance and entertain for money. They blackened their faces with soot to disguise themselves so they could not be recognised by their future employers.

Molly dancing traditionally only appeared during the depths of winter and is regarded by many people as the East Anglian form of Morris. The dances are still performed today. (Text and photos of the Molly Dancers and decorated plough from: http://www.projectbritain.com/ploughMonday.htm. See the videos and descriptions of dances also seen on that page)

What can you do to celebrate the new ploughing (or plowing) season to come, at your site, with your visitors, and in your lives?

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Happy New Year ALHFAMily!


Three Cheers for ALHFAM

Best wishes to you all for a healthy, prosperous, and joyous 2017. Let’s all look forward to the many opportunities we’ll have to come together again for fellowship.

–Deb Arenz

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