Meet Stuart Shelton
Stuart Shelton has always been what you would call a “history buff.” The Newport News, Virginia, native says throughout his life, he has enjoyed everything from his own family history to world history, and that lifelong passion now fuels his goal to become an interpretive ranger within a state park system. He has gained valuable experience toward that goal at Sycamore Shoals State Historic Park in Elizabethton, where he just spent his second consecutive summer as a seasonal ranger. In that role, Shelton has led guided tours of Sabine Hill and the Carter Mansion, two of the area’s historically significant homes, and discussed and demonstrated many aspects of the daily lives of settlers at Fort Watauga, including common occupations, fighting techniques and weaponry, fur trading, games and diversions, and more. He was also one of several students who developed a campus tour focusing on the history of student life on the ETSU campus as a class project during the fall 2017 semester.
Shelton, who now lives in Flag Pond, Tennessee, earned his undergraduate degree in history with a minor in Appalachian studies at ETSU in 2017, and plans to graduate with his master’s degree in history within the next year. He is also working toward a certificate in archival studies.
What led you to the study of history?
I’ve just always loved it, but I especially love learning about my family history, and just local history, and Virginia history in general. That branched out into learning more about the nation’s and world history. I’ve always loved watching movies about history, whether they be dramatic portrayals of historic events or documentaries.
What previous experience did you have in historic interpretation, leading up to your work as a seasonal interpreter at Sycamore Shoals State Park?
My first experience was as a volunteer at the Virginia Living Museum in Newport News, in which we talked about the animals that were on the trail outside, or the animals in the touch tank or in the inside exhibit. Also, I’ve participated in Civil War reenacting. Most of the time, it just involved me with other groups portraying a battle, but we also did living history events, like “The Military Through the Ages” at Jamestown. My group also portrayed Union marines and sailors at a local museum. We’ve done a mixture of interpretive and reenactor work.
What are some of the areas of working at a state park or museum that most interest you?
I love talking about history, so I really would love to have a full-time job as an interpretive ranger. This is something I can do very well, and my heart is in it.
You’re working on earning certification in archival studies. For those not familiar with that field, why is it so important to know the special techniques needed in the care of historical materials?
Archival certification is the next best thing to actually getting a master’s in archival studies. It will allow me to work in an archive while focusing at the same time on history. Archival work goes hand-in-hand with history and interpretive work, because if you don’t handle documents or preserve them or treat them properly – and this can apply to more than documents, it can apply to books, anything that you want to keep for the future – they will deteriorate until they’re unrecognizable. If that happens, there are gaps in the historical record. Losses can be the result of an accident or fire, or just improper handling.
What advice would you give to a younger student who might be interested in your field?
Be very patient, and always look for opportunities. It may not happen at once. You may not get a job at once, but you’ve just got to make sure your name gets out and cultivate relationships with park managers. Show them that you’re interested in this field and that you’ll take your job seriously. Be friendly with people, and don’t be afraid to come out of your shell and talk to people. And be prepared to answer a lot of questions – some of them will be good questions, some of them not that good.
What do you enjoy in your spare time?
I like playing on the computer, but other times, I like to help out with my mom’s garden. I like to read books on historical events, and it doesn’t matter whether it’s a specific battle or a time period. I also collect fossils and physical artifacts that are easier to preserve and to store.