Stories. My love of stories goes back to the earliest of memories. It was not until I was about 10 years old that it dawned on me that history was the ultimate story. The thing that always bothered me about history, however, was the way in which it is taught in most K-12 schools, a series of facts to be memorized and rarely analyzed. History is a lived experience and must be understood and studied as such. Once I realized that history was the story of who we are as a people and as a nation, my life’s work truly began.
My name is Joseph Obidzinski, but most people just call me Joe. I am serving as the AmeriCorps Member with PAWV and will be responsible for managing the West Virginia Historic Theatre Trail. I hail from a suburb of Detroit called Livonia. The love that I developed for history made my choice to major in history during my time at Grand Valley State University (located just outside of Grand Rapids, Michigan) a “no-brainer”. I graduated with a Bachelor’s Degree in 2006. During my time there, I was introduced to the field of Public History. This introduction made the direction of my life’s work clear. Shortly thereafter, I undertook a series of internships to further my professional skill set. These included serving as a collections intern at both the Great Lakes Naval Memorial and Museum and the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Museum. During that time, I also served as an intern to a former professor who chaired a committee of organizations throughout west Michigan to commemorate the bi-centennial of the abolition of the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade, called “Remembering the Crossings”. All of those experiences helped to broaden and shape my understanding of the past and how we simultaneously interact with and are affected by the past.
In 2007, I began a three-year association with the Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park in Virginia. First as an intern, and then as a seasonal historian, I worked on developing and delivering various historic programs throughout the park. During my first year there, I also applied and was accepted to West Virginia University’s graduate history program. While at WVU, I completed my Master’s Degree in American History with dual emphases in Public History and Civil War Era Studies. While the balance of my previous professional experience is heavily skewed towards the nineteenth century and before, one of my favorite hobbies is film and theatre culture in the twentieth century.
The past two and a half years mark my second time living in West Virginia (the first was during my time at WVU, but as I have learned from many, there is much more to the West Virginia experience than Morgantown). In my short time here, I have grown to love this land, its history, and its people. While I would never call myself a true West Virginian out of respect for those who have made these lands home, I have undoubtedly been affected by the experience of sharing the rich history of this region. This year marks the beginning of my third term with Preservation Alliance as an AmeriCorps Member. For the past two years, I served as the Member for WVU Jackson’s Mill. While there I developed new educational and interpretive programs, updated much of the interpretation at the site, and began to formalize a volunteer program for the site. I also served as the miller there for the past few seasons, operating the 1790s water-powered gristmill on-site. Prior to joining PAWV, in the fall of 2014, I worked for a season at Jackson’s Mill as a seasonal historian, which is where I learned about PAWV and the AmeriCorps opportunity.
The desire to share knowledge and history is one of the reasons that I was drawn to working with PAWV and AmeriCorps service. More than that, however, I remain determined to grow as a historian. I believe that it is our duty to preserve, interpret, and teach the past, no matter how difficult or uncomfortable the subject matter may be. It is my contention that this is best done when people can connect with that past in tangible ways, such as sites, structures, artifacts, and experiences. This is why I believe that theatres represent a very important opportunity for people from within and outside of communities to explore the past. Whether it is the showing of an old film, a lecture series on any number of topics, a live performance of stage or music, or any number of other offerings; theatres reflect much about who we are as a people, our past selves, and what we want to project to future generations.
The Theatre Trails project promises to be one of the most challenging, beneficial, and rewarding experiences of my career. I believe that my experience of coordinating work days at Jackson’s Mill as well as working as part of a team with large-scale events will serve me well in bringing people together to accomplish necessary work to assist member sites. One of my first duties is to enter or update all of the member entries on the trail into the history app Clio. I am also researching for the completion of a Flex-E Grant application through the state. I believe that my diligence, my drive to excel in history, and personal nature to serve, will suit me well in my efforts throughout the coming year. I am very excited about the service year and find the topic incredibly fascinating. By the end of my term of service, my goal is to have assisted our member sites in building self-sustainable capacity which will allow them to build their sites into important pieces of their respective communities. I also hope to have acquired beneficial professional experience that will allow me to better help whatever stories that I undertake to tell in the future, I will be better equipped to do so.