The History Department at Roanoke College has a resource that is truly unique: a large collection of historic costumes and a sewing lab where we construct, maintain, and repair them. Coordinated by a historian, the Living History Lab designs and lends costumes for a variety of pedagogical purposes at the college and in the surrounding community. At Roanoke College it is not unusual to see a student walking across campus in an eighteenth century gown or 1970s bell bottoms and a mile wide tie. We furnish costumes for classroom debates, historic tours, lectures, and museum displays. In our costumes, students have debated women’s suffrage and the United States Constitution. They have run across Salem in hoop skirts for the annual Darwin Days scavenger hunt, and given 19th century commencement addresses in VMI cadet uniforms. An annual highlight is Founder’s Day when over 100 students, faculty and staff don costumes for the day from all time periods to celebrate the founding of the college.
Students can participate in the Living History Lab in a variety of ways. They may be required to dress for a course, or may volunteer for an activity such as the annual Salem Christmas parade or Founder’s Day that would bring them in for a fitting. The LHL is open to students of all majors and endeavors to accommodate a range of sizes. Students with sewing skills can apply for the position of Living History Lab assistant. The LHL assistant helps organize and maintain the collection, repair garments, put together outfits, fit and dress participants, and construct garments using materials available in the sewing lab. If eligible, a student may also take HIST 408: Public History Practicum, an opportunity to research, design, and construct a historic costume for the collection. Students interested in careers in Public History may gain valuable hands on experience in the Living History Lab.
If you would like to get involved with the Living History Lab, please contact us! We also accept donations of fabric, notions, and vintage clothing and accessories. Please contact Dr. Mary Henold (firstname.lastname@example.org)