“I’ve always loved history,” Matthew Cassady said. “When I started college, I was a music/theater major. After one week, I said, ‘This isn’t fun, this is work.’ I switched to history. I interned at a historic site as a tour guide and doing research. I realized this is what I loved to do. I got to talk with people about historic things that were fascinating to me.”
Cassady completed a Master’s degree in Historic Administration. “It’s designed to prepare you for lots of types of museum work — program development, collections management, archivist, historic structures preservations,” he said.
In 2008, Cassady moved to Minnesota with his first wife. He got a part-time job as a costumed interpreter at Fort Snelling. That fall, he was promoted to a full-time job as program developer — and “I’ve been here ever since,” he said.
In his current role, he said, “my main responsibilities are to research and design public programs. I work on everything from the school tour to the regular program to special events that focus on a different era or historical theme. I coordinate the re-enactors. I also do a lot of collaboration with others in the Minnesota Historical Society on projects and programs. It can be stressful because you’re involved in so many different things — but it’s never dull.”
Fort Snelling will celebrate its bicentennial in 2020, and that is an additional focus for Cassady. “I’m involved in the team that’s creating a whole new vision and interpretive plan for this site. We want to return it to the people of Minnesota — to make it a much more community-centric site. We want communities to come and do their own programs. I’m very excited to be a part of the redefining of this place — making it more accessible, making it more about bringing people together. There’s so much that connects here. We want to connect people with that and with each other,” he said.
What’s the best part of your job?
Working with people — when I get out of the office and either do a program myself or participate in a program or just watch. I’m a people person. I have to do the research — that’s incredibly important. But the real joy for me is what happens after that. You’re designing a program with your team and then you put it out there and you try it. That’s the exciting, tingling, nervous part. Are they responding?
What’s the most challenging part of the job?
No matter what you do, there are always people who don’t like it. I’m a softhearted guy, and I have to remember not to take those things personally.
Why should people come to Fort Snelling?
People come out here and they have a certain idea of what this place was. It’s the old Hollywood idea of a fort — to protect white settlers from Indians. They get surprised at the complexity of the interactions between people. It was part of the U.S. government trying to expand the country, but there’s more to it than that. The military and government, the Dakota, Ojibway, African Americans both enslaved and free, the class issues that were here, the social structures that are unique to a military environment. You can dig deeper into the past and see that it’s not surface level. We look around the world today and say, “It’s so complicated.” It was then, too. There’s so much more to the story than muskets and cannons. □
By Laura French • firstname.lastname@example.org