Hello! I’m Cathy Hellier. I have worked for Colonial Williamsburg for over 40 years. I was an interpreter for a year, moved to Historical Research, and have been there ever since.
This was a career I didn’t anticipate. I thought I was going to teach high school English, but I visited Colonial Williamsburg with my parents when I was in college and thought it was the most amazing place. Later, when my husband got a job in the area, I thought I would apply to Colonial Williamsburg for a temporary job until teaching jobs opened up again. The rest, as they say, is history!
WHAT DO YOU DO AT COLONIAL WILLIAMSBURG?
I am a historian in Historical Research and Digital History. The historians have a wide variety of duties. We do “big picture” things like developing a training curriculum for interpreters, assisting with site plans, developing research agendas, and doing original research. We also provide our colleagues outside the department with assistance including research support, providing answers to queries, and reviewing for historical accuracy some materials that Colonial Williamsburg publishes. We present training and public lectures. The historians write books, articles, and research papers for scholarly and popular audiences. And we write blogs!
I love public history. Colonial Williamsburg’s public historians must keep up with the historiography (what other historians have said and are saying about particular fields and topics), while digging deeply into our site, the city of Williamsburg. We have to know how Williamsburg fits into the British Empire and the greater world. Public historians also need to know how to do the things that the people of the past did as they lived their daily lives. Some of my research specialties are slavery, families and households, 18th-century English, politics and the Revolution, the British government, the consumer revolution, etiquette, and dance.
My other job at Colonial Williamsburg is a performer in the Foundation’s 18th-century dance group. I’ve been a member for almost as long as I’ve worked here.
WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE PART OF WORKING AT COLONIAL WILLIAMSBURG?
I can’t pick one favorite part, but I can pick three. First, I love that my job involves learning something new every single day, whether it’s about the 18th century in general or about this place, because research always yields new information.
Second, our front-line staff is amazing. Working with them to help with their research, to turn scholarship into new programming, or to just answer a question for them — whatever contact we have — I am always blown away by their talent and dedication.
Third, if you have a particular interest in something from the 18th-century, there is usually a group of like-minded people who work here to connect with. I love being part of Colonial Williamsburg’s dance group, where I get to learn and perform various types of period dance.
WHAT IS SOMETHING THAT SURPRISES YOU ABOUT WORKING AT COLONIAL WILLIAMSBURG?
Well, I’ve been here quite a few decades now, so not much surprises me anymore! It doesn’t surprise me that our staff of historians, architectural historians, archaeologists, and curators are constantly learning new things that push scholarship and museum programming forward. It doesn’t surprise me that new scholarship finds its way into new programming and teacher training materials every year. It doesn’t surprise me that Colonial Williamsburg is beautiful in the spring, the fall, and at Christmas. (No, summer isn’t my favorite!) Maybe it surprises me a little that after all this time, I still love working here. Most people get tired of their jobs after a while.
DO YOU HAVE A FAVORITE THING TO DO OUTSIDE OF WORK?
Well, not surprisingly, I love to read, and I’ll read pretty much anything because I have a lot of interests. I was pursuing my doctorate at William & Mary while working full-time. It took eight years, and during that time, there wasn’t much room in my schedule for hobbies or for reading not required by the program and work. I finished last spring, so this year, I’ve been pursuing things I had to put aside for a while, like baking and gardening.
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