History Players offer way to learn

WINNEBAGO – Toni Stone is one of the latest people from Minnesota’s history brought to life, says Wendy Jones, director of education for the Minnesota History Center.

The History Players program was launched in 1992.

“It started as a program that took place in the exhibits,” she said.

The first two historical characters were Harriet Bishop, the first public schoolteacher and the woman for whom Harriet Island is named, and Joseph Nicollet, a French explorer.

“People learn in a lot of different ways,” Jones said of the program’s inception.

Some like to read, others look at objects or take part in interactive programs.

“Some people like to learn by talking with other people,” she said. “The History Players was a way for people to learn in a different style. Having people portray someone from Minnesota history helps people put broad events of the era into perspective.”

For instance, Toni Stone’s story incorporates baseball, the Negro Leagues and the Rondo neighborhood of St. Paul, and delivers it from the perspective of the woman who lived it.

“You see history is about real people,” Jones said.

“[The History Players] helped people connect to history in a powerful way and to human emotions,” Jones said. “They made history and were affected by events. It helps people learn in a powerful way. They’re getting all the facts and history but packaged in a real person’s story in a way that is very interactive and engaging.”

The program has been expanded to include more characters over the years, such as Virginia Mae Hope of Winnebago.?She was a member of the Women Airforce Service Pilots in World War II.

“We look for characters that illustrate broader historical themes; a window into looking at a larger era,” Jones said.

Originally an on-site program with 10- to 15-minute shows, the History Players became so popular that the Center took the show on the road in 1999, expanding it to an hour.

“We can bring the History Players into schools,” said Jones, pointing out the Center has other tools for teachers, including opportunities for field trips to historic sites.

For more information, visit www.minnesotahistorycenter.org online.