Learning and Living History

This Duke employee is fond of his heritage

During his time working at Colonial Williamsburg, Jason Gordon, left, acted in video productions to highlight the history of Williamsburg. Photo courtesy of the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation.

For Jason Gordon, studying American history is just as important as living it.

Growing up in historic Williamsburg, Va., it was hard for Gordon to avoid the past surrounding a city that became the capitol of the Virginia in 1699. That's in addition to the fact his family traced its lineage in the Williamsburg area to at least the 1860s and perhaps earlier.

"When I say history is in my blood, it's definitely in my blood," said Gordon, a computer technician at the School of Nursing. "Growing up, there was a large influence to learn history and my friends and family played a huge part."

After studying history at Hampton University from 1998 to 2002, Gordon took a job at Colonial Williamsburg, a living-history museum where he could literally immerse himself in a time he found fascinating. He helped create programming and construction ideas for various sites of the colonial reenactment museum, which features actors portraying the real-life residents of the 17th century town.

Using an expertise in the history of American slavery, Gordon planned aspects of walking tours to highlight lives of black people living during the 1700s and 1800s.

"A very large number of slaves were highly-skilled craftsmen and to be a craftsman they needed to know basics of reading, writing and arithmetic," Gordon said. "These were individuals who were highly intelligent and who could speak, read and write in any of the languages of commerce."

Since joining Duke in 2011, Gordon has kept a connection to his love for history, which includes wood-working. In addition to benches, stools and a table, Gordon has carved dozens of walking sticks from hardwood made in a style found in Africa from the 18th century through today

"It's a tradition that's gone on for more years that can be counted," Gordon said. "It stems from my interest in history."