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History student lives in 18th century history

If the day is quiet enough, Michael Ramsey relaxes his mind and almost forgets what century it is. On these afternoons, the Austin Peay State University history major is usually camped deep in the woods, wearing a plaid kilt and other itchy clothing from the 1730s. He warms his hands by a small fire, eating bread or parched corn or, if hes lucky, a little meat. Next to him rests his musket in case he needs to do some hunting.

For a moment, the world does seem to drift back to the 18th century.
If the day is quiet enough, Michael Ramsey relaxes his mind and almost forgets what century it is. On these afternoons, the Austin Peay State University history major is usually camped deep in the woods, wearing a plaid kilt and other itchy clothing from the 1730s. He warms his hands by a small fire, eating bread or parched corn or, if he's lucky, a little meat. Next to him rests his musket in case he needs to do some hunting.

For a moment, the world does seem to drift back to the 18th century.

“I've been on the verge, not really losing track of where I am, but convincing myself this is how it really was,” Ramsey said. “Then a 747 flies overhead.”

Recently, the APSU senior sat in a coffee shop explaining how his forays into the woods aren't a mere hobby. His long, blond hair was pulled back into a ponytail, and he was dressed in a more traditional outfit of blue jeans and a button-down shirt.

“I consider myself a living historian,” he said. “Everything I talk about and teach and wear, I can usually document through primary source material — either a written source, such as a diary, or a painting.”

Living history, a growing trend in museums around the country, provides a tangible representation of what life was like in different eras.

Practitioners painstakingly research the ages they portray, trying to reconstruct all aspects of specific time periods as authentically as possible. They answer the big and small questions, such as how did early settlers mend clothing, make weapons or hunt deer?

“It's always really interesting to see adults have an ah-ha moment in their head, saying ‘OK, that's how that works,'” Ramsey said.

He participates in two different living history projects, both centered on the 18th century. The first is the Clann Nan Con, a group dedicated to recreating the lives and habits of a band of Scottish Highlanders living between 1736 and 1746 in the Georgia colony.

“James Oglethorpe and the Georgia Committee were looking for a group of people to be a fighter/farmer buffer between the English colonies and the Spanish in the south and the French in the back country,” Ramsey said.

It isn't unusual for him to go off for a few days to Georgia, where he and fellow clan members live in the woods in a “100 percent historically accurate” encampment. No cell phones are allowed, and during the musket drills, those strange words you may hear are the commands shouted in Scots Gaelic — the foreign tongue spoken by these agrarian warriors.

Ramsey's other living history project takes place just down the road at Mansker's Station, in Goodlettsville. That's where he strives to recreate how early settlers survived on the 18th century Tennessee frontier.

“I've gotten into a little bit of the farming aspect,” he said. “I've also done some work in the forge at Mansker's Station, making knives and what's called a hunting sword.”

He's also studied early hide tanning techniques and the irregular warfare tactics of the settlers and the Native Americans in Tennessee. When Ramsey graduates next year from APSU, he intends to take his intimate knowledge of these historical processes and share them with the public, hopefully through a job with a museum.

“It's really surprising how many times a process works,” he said. “I'm always amazed at colonial ingenuity. I would have never figured that out, but that's because I live in the world of e-books and iPhones and 24-hour news.” -- Charles Booth