Jonathan Long has always been fascinated by history and historical artifacts, and he also has a love of the theatre. He had a chance to combine both passions this past summer, when he assumed the identity of a historical figure and led a history tour through downtown Carlisle to highlight the town’s role in the Whiskey Rebellion. Below, he discusses the history internship that led to that role, his view of using theatre as a tool for social change and why we shouldn’t take life too seriously.
Clubs and organizations:
Mermaid Players (executive board), Run With It! (co-president), Music Appreciation Club (treasurer), History Majors Committee, Social Justice Peer Educator and Writing Center (tutor).
John Montgomery Scholarship, Alpha Lambda Delta and Walkley Prize (for commitment to the Department of Theatre & Dance).
A Clockwork Orange.
On choosing a major:
I feel as if I’ve always known that I wanted to study history. Since I was a kid, I always had some weird fascination with the past and the objects people left behind. My bedroom was practically a museum made up of artifacts and documents I collected. Most kids may have had an Ariana Grande or Pink Floyd poster above their headboard, but I had a framed newspaper from 1945 and a Revolutionary War musket. You could say that when I came to Dickinson, the choice was very clear.
My theatre major was also not a tough choice. I’ve always had a bit of an overactive imagination and a lot of misplaced energy. However, when I first stepped onto the stage, it just made sense. I was able to take that seemingly over-the-top imagination and apply it to a fictional world on stage, traveling to all the places and time periods I’d always imagined in my head. After being cast as a first-year in Dickinson’s production of Big Love and working with such talented peers, I knew I wanted to spend my college career studying an art form that always tests the limits of my creativity.
Favorite place on campus:
Denny lecture hall (third floor).
My first-year seminar with [Assistant] Professor [of Philosophy] Jeff Engelhardt. The class was simply called “Sex” and thus appealed to a pretty eclectic group of people. In the class we were introduced to philosophical debates about sexual activity, sexual violence and sexual identity. No class since has really made me rethink some of the most basic elements of humanity like this one. I always walked into the class feeling as if I knew something and left feeling as if I knew nothing, and that made it one of the most interesting experiences of my college career.
As I kid, I wanted to be …
… Benjamin Franklin Gates from the National Treasure movie series.
Most important thing I’ve learned so far:
The most important thing I feel I’ve learned was in a class entitled “The Long Civil Rights Movement.” This history class sought to reshape our understanding of a movement we typically place from about 1954 to 1970. However, this class made me rethink the movement entirely, reminding me that the fight has been going on far longer than we are taught in high school and, more importantly, that this movement of movements is far from over.
I like to tinker with and restore old candy machines.
[Professor of Theatre] Karen Kirkham. Since she cast me in my first show here, she’s been sort of a second mom to me. Her expertise in movement, activism and the application of theatre has aided me in freeing my body on stage, being more comfortable in unconventional environments or situations and thinking critically about how theatre can speak to people on an emotional level. Most importantly, I’ve learned from her that theatre as an art form is about far more than fancy accents and costumes—it's about making people uncomfortable and challenging their everyday perceptions, bringing attention to a significant unaddressed issue in society.
Quoting Nicki Minaj in my high school graduation speech.
In a perfect world …
… people would laugh more. I think people take themselves way too seriously, and everyone’s lives would be better if they didn’t.
About my internship
This summer I interned at the Cumberland County Historical Society. They needed help organizing the Whiskey Rebellion Festival, which occurred at the end of September, and I wanted to learn a bit about the field of public history. I spent the first month of my internship gathering interviews from historical societies near my hometown in upstate New York. Then I compiled that into a paper that discussed the struggles and successes of small historical projects in the 21st century.
After that, I worked onsite in Carlisle, doing research on the Whiskey Rebellion, a large uprising (1791-94) of western Pennsylvania farmers who were outraged by an excise tax on liquor designed by Alexander Hamilton. The culmination of this research and outreach was the printing of five large panels now displayed at the historical society that explain the rebellion and Carlisle’s place in it, the staging of a reenactment in the town square, and a walking tour that I designed highlighting key locations in Carlisle where the rebellion took place. The walking tour required me to dress in costume and lead a group of about 50 people around town explaining the various perspectives of the rebellion and encouraging them to empathize with people who felt their government was out of touch with their everyday reality.
Ultimately, this internship taught me how to do historical research faster and to work with a group of people far beyond me in their experience and knowledge of the field. It also forced me to work independently and to take responsibility for my own work and deadlines.
It was a really fun way to combine my passion for performing with my love of history—and do so in a way that made people reevaluate their perceptions of a historical period and the people who lived in it.
Published October 2, 2017