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Education and Historic Interpretation

Education, Research and Historic Interpretation

Our Core Educational Mission

For decades, the value placed on history education in our country has waned. Colonial Williamsburg is committed to reinvigorating the subject and revitalizing its value in today’s society. Through engaging historical interpretation, teacher professional development, scholarly research and education outreach opportunities, we encourage history lovers of all ages and backgrounds to learn, explore and discover our shared American story.

Those who visit the Historic Area in person are invited to become citizens of the 18th century. Here, they meet Virginians, free and enslaved African Americans, travelers from nearby colonies and the Native peoples who preceded the English in America. The talented interpreters who bring these characters to life each day are historians, actors and teachers, and they immerse guests in a world where men and women pledged their lives and sacred honor for a free nation.

The Foundation’s costumed interpretive staff includes Nation Builders such as Thomas Jefferson and Martha Washington, character interpreters, military program interpreters, site and orientation interpreters, musicians and more. We support the interpretive team by giving them the opportunity and resources to research the people and the time period they portray. Much of the work is done on site, with the help of our research historians, librarians and archivists, primary sources in the John D. Rockefeller Jr. Library’s collection and visiting scholars.

The interpreters who bring the men and women of the Revolution to life transform the Historic Area into a space greater than any classroom. It is critical that we continue to experiment with new programs, ideas and ways of engaging our guests. By hiring passionate historians; giving them the tools they need to learn about and develop their characters; and maintaining an authentic, immersive setting for interpreters to interact with guests, we create lasting memories as well as unparalleled opportunities for education and research.

Engaging America’s Youth

On average, approximately 100,000 guests under the age of 15 visit us each year, and we strive to capture their imaginations and foster their love of American history. We must do everything we can to provide the nation’s youth with a passion for America’s story, especially in the absence of robust American history programs in many schools. Through programs such as Patriots at Play, Colonial Williamsburg provides opportunities for guests of all ages to immerse themselves in Virginia’s colonial capital.

The Foundation also provides opportunities for local youth to be a part of the Colonial Williamsburg family. Junior Interpreters spend their summers in costume, volunteering throughout the Historic Area and illustrating the lives of colonial Virginia’s children. Junior Apprentices hone their public speaking skills and expand their education in our trade shops. And more than 100 young men and women between the ages of 10 and 18 from all over the Greater Williamsburg area form the iconic Colonial Williamsburg Fifes and Drums. Our young interpreters learn responsibility, team work and a great deal of history—while forging friendships that last a lifetime.

Although over half a million people visit Colonial Williamsburg each year, there are countless other students, teachers and lovers of history who never have that opportunity. To bring the Colonial Williamsburg experience to their homes, classrooms and communities, we provide teacher development opportunities and online resources that harness the techniques we use onsite. For three decades, educators have traveled to Virginia for the Colonial Williamsburg Teacher Institute, the majority receiving donor-funded scholarships. For many teachers, it is the professional development opportunity of a lifetime. The Teacher Institute crafts multi-day agendas, each of which includes first-hand, living-history experiences and practical application sessions that provide participants with a fresh perspective on their craft. With programs designed for elementary, middle and high school teachers, the Foundation is proud to offer a valuable experience for every educator.



Initiatives and Accomplishments


  • In 2019 the Teacher Institute celebrates 30 years since its inception. In that time, nearly 10,000 teachers have graduated from the Institute, which takes place in week-long sessions every summer and now 3-day seminars in the fall. Our outstanding Teacher Institute team is hard at work pairing teachers from across the nation with scholarships and expanding their 3-day seminar offerings to include a larger range of targeted content.

  • The Nation Builder program continues to grow, with several new interpreters making exciting debuts.

    Gowan Pamphlet (Joseph Feaster) was a pioneering Baptist preacher who risked the consequences as an enslaved man to found Williamsburg’s First Baptist Church.

    Ann Wager (Nicole Brown) was the mistress of Williamsburg’s Bray School, whose mission was to teach basic reading, writing and possibly math skills to children of African descent with the goal of providing religious instruction in the Anglican tradition.

    Clementina Rind (Emma Cross) was the first female public printer in Virginia. She helped her husband with the printing of the Virginia Gazette until his death in 1773, when she took over the publication herself.

    A second George Washington interpreter (Daniel Cross) soon will portray the young colonel in the early stages of his career.

  • We have increased the visibility of lesser-known stories this year with 2019 Black History Month and Women’s History Month programs, including:

    The “Famous Barber of York” – Caesar Hope is available in his barber shop to share with visitors his remarkable life’s story of slavery, freedom and enterprise.

    Revealing the Priceless: Colonial Williamsburg – 40 Years of African American Interpretation – This exhibition at the Raleigh Tavern takes a closer look at the essential personnel who have made the Historic Area come to life, highlighting the contributions of hundreds of interpreters, historians and curators who represent the African American voice of the 18th century.

    Important historical figures featured for Women’s History Month include Aggy of Turkey Island, Ann Wager, Clementina Rind, Edith Cumbo and Martha Washington.


Funding Needs

Education, Research and Historic Interpretation initiatives have been made possible by the generosity of our donors. Thank you for supporting The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation and for considering additional contributions for the following projects:


Special Endowment Opportunities

  • $15 million to endow costuming for all interpreters
  • $12 million to fully endow the Nation Builders program
  • $10 million to endow the Historic Interpretation program (site and school group interpreters)
  • $10 million to endow Museum Theater, offering programs during the day and in the evening
  • $5 million to endow the position of Vice President of Education, Research and Historic Interpretation
  • $5 million to endow guest orientation (including signage, the daily guide and the website)
  • $1 million to establish an endowment for Historic Area interpreter professional development

Top Priorities

  • $540,000 to support the Military Program
  • $260,000 to support the American Indian interpretation program for one year
  • $140,000 to support Fifes & Drums
  • $100,000 to underwrite either Grand Illumination or our July 4th celebration
  • $60,000 to fund one Nation Builder, such as James Madison or the Marquis de Lafayette
  • $40,000 to underwrite the annual eight-week winter training program for all costumed interpreters
  • $40,000 to support one actor interpreter for one year
  • $30,000 to support one historic interpreter for one year
  • $15,000 to support museum theater such as scripted plays at the Charlton, Palace and Play House stages
  • $12,000 to support costumed interpreter shoe repair costs (four gifts needed)
  • $10,000 to provide wood for cressets used in evening and special programming
  • $10,000 to support laundry costs for costumes (12 gifts needed)
  • $10,000 to support the cost of books for interpreters (12 gifts needed)
  • $10,000 to support printing costs for the Map and Program Guide (12 gifts needed)
  • $7,000 to support costuming for one military interpreter
  • $5,000 to support costuming for one historic interpreter
  • $4,000 to support costuming for one fifer or drummer
  • $3,000 for family program supplies (four gifts needed)
  • $2,500 to purchase accessories (eyewear, caps, scarves, mittens/gloves) for interpreters' costumes