Extra Credit

Extra Credit

Long-time student and interpretor of 18th-century history Associate Dean for Student Development D. Michael Ryan recently added a new feather to his tricorn cap.

Last month, Ryan was elected to the Colonial Society of Massachusetts, a 111-year-old historical society that preserves artifacts and and records from Colonial America, and encourages research of the era.

Michael Ryan
"The society has 200 members and you need to be nominated, and there's a review process," said Ryan. "They don't take new members until someone drops out or goes on to the 'society in the sky.'"

The organization, whose members include University Historian Thomas H. O'Connor, also holds scholarly conferences and sponsors workshops for school teachers.

Ryan estimates he has written between 60 and 80 historical articles on the American Revolution and, more specifically, events surrounding April 19, 1775, the beginning of the war.

"I try to debunk myths in my writing," said Ryan. "What is historical truth? Do we really care that, contrary to Longfellow's poem, Paul Revere never made it Concord? That's what I try to get to the heart of.

"I think my election to this organization had a lot to do with my writing," said Ryan.

He says that another important factor in his election to the Colonial Society concerns his work at the Minute Man National Historic Park in Concord, where he volunteers as an historical interpreter. Ryan dons authentic period clothing to assume the personage of Captain William Smith, commander of the 1775 Lincoln Minute Company, and gives tours of the park "in character" to visitors.

"I take the information that I gather and put it to real use. It's not just written in a paper, I'm out there interpreting what was going on," said Ryan.

"It's theater basically. We let the audience ask questions about us while we're in 'first person.'"

A Concord resident, Ryan has a collection of Colonial-era artifacts and his own research library containing some out-of-print books on the period.

Ryan, who served in Vietnam with the US Army, says studying the American Revolution helps him reflect on the founding principles of the United States.

"The war for our independence ended in 1778," said Ryan, "but the American Revolution continues to this day."

-Stephen Gawlik


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