A Historian at Montpelier

Please tell our readers a little bit about yourself.

My name is Kyle Stetz and I have had a life-long passion for history. I grew up in western New York state near the Pennsylvania border. Growing up, I visited historic sites, and nearly every summer, I visited Gettysburg, Pennsylvania., as I had, and still have, a great interest in the American Civil War. Now living in Virginia, I am surrounded by history at every turn.

Please tell our readers a little bit about Montpelier and what you do there.

Montpelier was the life-long home of James Madison, the fourth President of the United States of America, his wife Dolley Madison, and several generations of slaves that labored on the plantation. At Montpelier, I am in charge of our student programming as well as our many “Hands On History” programs. Montpelier sees more than 5,000 students each school year, plus several thousand additional participants in our summer hands-on programs. It’s my job to create meaningful and engaging programs for learners of all ages.

Why is this work important/how does it apply to everyday life for most people?

James Madison was known as the “Father of the Constitution” because he did more than any other individual to help create the system of government that the United States still operates under to this very day. The Constitution, the laws of the land, apply to each and every citizen of the United States on a daily basis. It was at his home, Montpelier, that James Madison brainstormed the ideas that would go into the final version of the U.S. Constitution.

Why is it important to study history?

The study of history not only informs us of past peoples and events, but it informs us of present-day issues and our society. History can also help us to look to the future. James Madison knew this as he began to brainstorm ideas to take with him to the Constitutional Convention — a big meeting that took place in Philadelphia in 1787. As a result of that meeting, the United States Constitution was created. Madison looked to history to help him figure out what types of government had worked, and not worked, for countries throughout world history. He took the best ideas and expanded upon them to outline a workable system of government for America.

What is the coolest thing about your job?

I love to develop creative programming for our visitors that allows them to connect to James and Dolley Madison and the enslaved community that lived and labored at Montpelier. Whether it is developing a new activity or taking visitors on a tour of Montpelier, making connections from the past to the present is always exciting.

What is a typical day like for you?

I never feel like I have a “typical” day. Each day is different — I talk with teachers to plan their class field trips, give tours of Madison’s home and the surrounding grounds, attend meetings to plan for future events, create programs, train our guides and a host of other tasks that keeps me on my toes.

What kind of training does it take to do your job?

My job is in the public history field — a simple definition of public history is to think about anywhere that history is shared with

people outside of the classroom setting. Public historians are trained to work at historic sites, museums and archives (places where they store lots of old documents). I went to college and received my degree in education and American history, then went on to get my master’s in public history.

When/How did you know you wanted to work at Montpelier?

I knew that I wanted to work at Montpelier after the very first time I visited the site. Montpelier has the ability to share omore than 200 years of American history. Our story not only includes the history of the Madison family, but the history of the many generations of African Americans that lived at Montpelier throughout the period of slavery to freedom and beyond.

What is something cool most people don’t know about Montpelier and/or James and Dolley Madison ?

Throughout James Madison’s lifetime the only way to take an image of someone, was to sit for a portrait (a painting of a person). His wife, Dolley lived several years after James died — long enough to see the invention of photography. The year before her death she was photographed by Matthew Brady, and you can see her picture on the Library of Congress website today.

What are some challenges you face in your work?

There is never a dull moment in my position. Sometimes I feel like a juggler. Keeping up with many different teachers and schools, planning field trips and assisting my staff in our programming means that there are always details to keep straight.

What do you like to do when you are not working?

I love spending time with my family, visiting other historic sites and collecting Civil War antiques. There’s not much I do that doesn’t involve history and the past — I love it!

Thank you for your time!

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