At the recently held 105th annual membership meeting of the Society of Mayflower Descendants in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, James W. Baker, former senior historian of the Plimoth Plantation was the recipient of that society's annual Distinguished Mayflower Scholarship Prize. The prize consists of a certificate and a $500 check. Mr. Baker was accompanied by his wife Peggy, the director and librarian of The Pilgrim Society/Pilgrim Hall Museum.
Mr. Baker was recognized for the massive contribution he has made in interpreting the Pilgrims and their legacy. He was particularly cited for the impetus he has given to the development of the historical roles played by the Plimoth Plantation museum teachers in their visits to classrooms. "It is clear to us that by raising the historical information at Plimoth Plantation to a very high level of scholarship, and by reaching an audience of national and even international breadth, you have made the Plantation itself, in a special sense, your monument" reads the citation.
For the past five years, The Pennsylvania Society fully funded visits of the Plimoth Plantation teachers to approximately 15,600 elementary school children throughout Pennsylvania.
Previous recipients of the prize have been Mayflower Society Historian General Caroline L. Kardell, "The Great Migration" project director Robert Charles Anderson, and former Plimoth Plantation curator Jeremy D. Bangs, the current director of the Leiden American Pilgrim Museum, Leiden, Holland. Coincidentally, all recipients are Fellows of The Pilgrim Society.
Mr. Baker was born into an old Plymouth family, and grew up with the story of Pilgrims and the traditions of the town.
His first summer job after high school was as a guide aboard Mayflower II. He majored in history at Boston University, but also took courses in education and a degree in Library Science to make a living from the Liberal Arts.
Although he had not intended to return to work in Plymouth after college, the death of his father convinced him to move back into the house built by his great-great-grandfather and take care of his widowed mother. After receiving his Master’s degree, he accepted a position as librarian at Plimoth Plantation. From 1975 until 2001, he worked at the Plantation and watched it grow from a modest regional institution to a museum of international renown. He became the Plantation’s Senior Historian and also acted as its Webmaster.
Jim now works at Plymouth Public Library as Circulation Librarian, and still lives in the family house with his wife Peggy.
While at the Plantation, Mr. Baker found it necessary to consider not only the material but also the mental culture of the time. He believes that the internalized beliefs and ideas of a period are vital in understanding how people thought and why they acted as they did. Therefore, all responses undertaken by the first person role-players at the Plantation had to embody not only the bare historical facts about the period but also the intellectual and emotional framework found in these ideas.
Another topic of his research has been the "Pilgrim Story." He has published several articles on the development and evolution of the romantic and inspirational image of the Plymouth Pilgrims. He points out that the Pilgrims’ cultural influence has been as much due to subsequent generations’ beliefs about the myth that has surrounded them, as due to their own achievements and their factual history. His article "The Historical Significance of the Plymouth Pilgrims" appears in the December 2001 issue of the GSMD Mayflower Quarterly.
It is obvious that Jim Baker has played a key role in making the Plimoth Plantation’s Classroom Visit program a "prime source" for getting the true story of our Nation’s earliest heroes to American youth. As you are aware, thousands of Pennsylvania students have benefited from this program under our sponsorship for the past five years.