Webcast to explore legacies of America’s first permanent English settlement

Published 8:16 pm Wednesday, November 8, 2006

Did Pocahontas and John Smith really have a romance for the ages?

Students worldwide will learn the answer to that inevitable question and others during a one-hour, live webcast Thursday that is part of the commemoration of the 400th anniversary of Jamestown, America’s first permanent English settlement.

“Jamestown Live!” will feature interviews with experts, performances of songs with historical themes and participation by an audience of about 200 at the Jamestown Settlement living history museum that will include student “ambassadors” representing all 50 states and the District of Columbia, plus students from Virginia schools.

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Students and teachers not on site will be able to e-mail questions before and during the webcast. Organizers expect more than 1 million students from the United States, Puerto Rico, Guam, the Virgin Islands, Anguilla, Austria, Canada, China, France, Germany, India, Mexico, New Zealand, Nigeria, Singapore and the United Kingdom to participate.

“Think of it as a combination of a television news magazine and a little bit of a town hall meeting,” said Linda Stanier, manager of special events and promotions for Jamestown 2007, the agency coordinating the 18-month Jamestown commemoration, which began in May.

“It’s really giving teachers and students a very visual and interactive way to learn about Jamestown,” Stanier said. “It’s exploring the 17th century 21st-century style.”

Students and educators can register for the webcast at http://www.JamestownJourney.org. The program, developed with leading educational organizations, is aimed at students in the fourth through eighth grades, their teachers and homeschoolers, but the Web site has free curricula and lesson plans for kindergarten through 12th grade compiled by the University of Virginia Center for Politics.

PBS journalist Gwen Ifill will serve as host of the webcast. She’ll be joined by student reporters and experts discussing three Jamestown legacies: representative government, the spirit of exploration and cultural diversity.

The experts are Stephen Adkins, chief of Virginia’s Chickahominy Indian tribe; James Horn, author of “A Land as God Made It: Jamestown and the Birth of America;” William Kelso, director of archaeology at Historic Jamestowne, the site where the settlers arrived in May 1607; Rex Ellis, vice president of the Historic Area at nearby Colonial Williamsburg and co-chair of the Jamestown 2007 African-American Advisory Council; Eric Speth, maritime programs manager for Jamestown Settlement; and former NASA astronaut Kathryn Thornton.

Adkins said he hopes the webcast will inspire people to learn more about Jamestown on their own.

“We’re stimulating or creating an appetite,” Adkins said. “People will learn that history has been denied. … There’s a great void in the history books in Virginia as it relates to the people of color, the blacks and the Indians.”

For his part, Adkins said he wants to give people a glimpse of what life was like for woodland Indians in 1607 and what it’s like for Virginia Indians today.

“I’d like for the world to know that the Indians have been in this general area for 13,000, 15,000 years” before the English settlers arrived, Adkins said. “They had a stable culture with an established sytem of governance in 1607, a rather civilized lifestyle.”

Horn said the webcast is long enough to get across some major points about Jamestown, such as it being the site of the first representative government in America. It also was the first place where English, Indian and African people lived together and sustained relationships over a long time, with some obvious tragic consequences, including slavery.

“It’s also important to look at adaptations and survivals of different peoples and cultures and ultimately to think about the successful aspects of these three cultures coming together and living together,” said Horn, director of research at the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation. “That’s essentially what the American experience has been about.”

Horn also wants to change people’s perspective on Jamestown.

“Let’s think of Jamestown not in terms of a false start or place where terrible things happened, where it’s a prelude to the real deal in Plymouth in 1620,” he said. Instead, the Jamestown experiment laid the blueprint for others to create successful colonies, he said.

Jamestown “is a rich and vivid story, and most people have no idea,” Horn said. “If they know anything about it, they think of Smith and Pocahontas.”

And what they think of Smith and Pocahontas isn’t always right.

Student reporter Camille Warren interviewed Horn for a taped segment for the webcast and said she was surprised to learn the “real story” of John Smith, a 28-year-old leader of the settlers, and Pocahontas, the 10- or 11-year-old daughter of a powerful Indian chief.

“John Smith and Pocahontas didn’t really have a romance,” said Warren, 15, of Newport News, one of six area students chosen to be reporters among about 26 who auditioned. “They were actually just in a nice friendship, and John Smith thought of Pocahontas as his daughter. I didn’t know that.”

Warren said her involvement in the program also has increased her enjoyment of Jamestown history.

“It’s a really great program,” she said. “Everyone who watches, they’ll get something from it, and they’ll have a lot of fun watching it.”

On the Net:

Jamestown Live: http://www.jamestownjourney.org and http://www.history.com/classroom/jamestownlive

Jamestown 2007: http://americas400thanniversary.com