| By Tom Christopher

Curator profile: Philip Zea

April 15, 2009  |  "Although I have lived elsewhere," Philip Zea says, "it looks like I'm contained by the Connecticut Valley." More specifically, by the remarkable microcosm of Deerfield, Massachusetts, where he has served the unique living museum Historic Deerfield in one capacity or another, most recently as president, for more than twenty-three years.

Sense of place, Zea says, is central to his interest in our cultural history, and Historic Deerfield's greatest strength. In a transient society like ours, he observes, most people are too little aware of their surroundings. By placing people within the context of their landscape, we begin to understand how each comes to affect the other. Context is not only the crux of cultural history, it also helps us make more intelligent decisions going forward. And context, of course, is Historic Deerfield's forte. The town's landscape is astonishingly well preserved. The plan laid out by the seventeenth-century English pioneers who settled this lush spot along the Connecticut River survives intact, and although Deerfield's houses date from different periods, Federal as well as colonial, their frame remains the original forty-three house lots the founders inscribed along Main Street. Perhaps even more remarkable, lush meadows and farms still extend right to the town center. Enhanced by the museum's extraordinary collection of period furniture, ceramics, silver, and fabrics, and the documentation developed by half a century of scholarly research, the sense of place here is palpable.

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