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Meet the Staff: Chris Van Tassell


From answering phone inquiries to photographing new acquisitions, the staff at the VHS have a wide range of talents that help make our collections accessible to the world. Who are the talented men and women of the VHS? In a series of “Meet the Staff” blog posts, we will introduce you to the people who work behind the scenes to collect, preserve, and interpret Virginia history.

Meet Chris Van Tassell

Meet the Staff - Chris Van TassellWhat is your job title?

Program Coordinator/Museum Educator

When did you begin working at the VHS?

I began working in the Education Department at the VHS in August 1999 as a work study student from VCU. I was hired full-time in 2001.

What are your job duties?

Since I work in the Education Department, my job duties include developing and conducting programs with teachers, students, and the public.

Chris Van Tassell working with students from St. Gertrudes school.

Here I am working with a group of students from St. Gertrude High School in the VHS reading room.

How did you become interested in history?

I guess my interest developed from a variety of sources. My parents both loved history, so I picked a lot of it up from them. We lived in an isolated area of Essex County surrounded by woods, so I spent a lot of time imagining what went on there in the past. I also remember Greek mythology hooking me big time in second grade. The world those stories were  from seemed very exotic in my imagination and made me want to learn about ancient history.

What is the favorite part of your job?

My favorite part of my job is definitely hearing people share their personal history. I also enjoy reading and conducting research using the VHS collections.

What has been your most memorable moment at the VHS?

There have been many memorable moments, most of which involve a person sharing stories about their own history. It’s amazing how much people will open up about themselves during a tour or during a program when you’re discussing the past.

What is your favorite item in your office? Why?

My favorite item in my office is a Native American hammer rock that sits on my desk. I found it on the ground one day and it reminds me of the pre-recorded past that’s under our feet every all the time. It’s also something I can put my hands on and know that somebody who lived hundreds of years ago used it to do their work. It makes me look a the other objects on my desk and wonder where they’ll be in five hundred years.

Hammer stone

This is the hammer rock that I keep on my desk.

What is your favorite collection piece at the VHS?

I don’t have a single favorite collection piece, but the Bowie knife John Brown had at Harper’s Ferry is quite evocative.

John Brown's Bowie Knife (VHS accession number: 1983.31)

This nineteenth century Bowie knife and sheath were taken from John Brown at Harper’s Ferry in 1859 by J.E.B. Stuart (VHS accession number: 1983.31).

What is your favorite historical period?

A historical period that I find fascinating, but would not want to have lived during, would be the Sengoku or “Warring States” period of Japan during the 16th and 17th centuries. For Virginia, it would be Native American history pre-European contact, though I wouldn’t want to live then either.

What are you hobbies?

My hobbies include DJing, going to shows, dancing, biking, playing video games, watching movies, reading the paper, and raising a feral cat.

If you did not work at the VHS, what would you be doing?

This is hard for me to speculate on since I’ve always just followed opportunities without much planning.  I dunno…  Maybe traveling and teaching abroad or working for an NGO… maybe public school teacher.

Read more blogs written by Chris.

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