Stan Deaton: teaching Georgia’s history
By Katie Hart Smith
Georgia native Stan Deaton had no idea that as he grew up in Snellville, riding his bike through the woods, attending the First Baptist Church with his family, and creating life-long friends attending South Gwinnett High School, that he would later play a key role in teaching Georgia’s history.
“How do you make a living out of a hobby for a love of history?” The question plagued Deaton.
“After finishing my dissertation, I planned to go into the academy and teach history classes at a university. But a chance meeting at a conference changed everything. I met the Georgia Historical Society’s (GHS) President and CEO, Todd Groce, we had a nice conversation, and a few months later, he reached out to me about interviewing for a position at GHS. It went well, and my wife and I moved to Savannah. Eighteen years later, my position has evolved as Senior Historian to serve as writer, editor, lecturer, as well as teacher training, and providing assistance with fundraising efforts. I tell people that I get paid to think, talk, write, and teach Georgia and American history, and I love it. I enjoy helping the public understand Georgia’s history and its people, and how our past has created and shaped the world we live in today,” Deaton said.
Right: In his spare time, Stan Deaton enjoys running and other outdoor activities.
“Knowledge of the past is important. The way we think about the past is the way we think about our future,” Deaton added. “I enjoy making the past understandable and relevant, from the impact of slavery and the Lost Cause on today’s race relations, to how our current presidential contest has deep roots in the American past. Our history is meaningful and important.” In an effort for the GHS to expand its audience and messaging throughout the state, GHS collaborated with Georgia Public Broadcasting. Together, they developed “Today in Georgia” for TV, radio, and the internet (todayingeorgiahistory.org), which ran from 2011 – 2013. Deaton wrote the scripts and hosted the program, which earned two regional Emmy awards.
When did the Georgia Historical Society get established?
Founded in 1839, the GHS’s statewide mission is to “collect, examine, and teach Georgia and American history though education and research.” The organization adopted the original Georgia Trustees' motto, “Non Sibi, Sed Allis,” which translated from Latin means, “not for self, but for others.” The GHS campus consists of Hodgson Hall, a National Historic Landmark building, serves as the Society's Research Center. The Jepson House Education Center, an 8,000- square- foot mansion built in 1856, contains the administrative, programming, and executive offices in Savannah. In 2010, GHS expanded and established an office in Atlanta.
Break it down by the numbers.
GHS has an expansive collection of Georgia’s rare and priceless history to include: 4 million manuscripts; 100,000 photographs; 30,000 architectural drawings; 15,000 books; maps; manuscripts; portraits; and artifacts. Of the unique artifacts Deaton highlighted, two are his favorite. The first are the dueling pistols of Button Gwinnett, Georgia patriot and signer of the Declaration of Independence, and Whig counterpart Lachlan McIntosh, used in their famous duel on May 16, 1777. Unfortunately, Gwinnett died from his gunshot wound a few days later. McIntosh, although shot, didn’t succumb to his injury. Two counties in Georgia would later be named after these men. Deaton commented on how Gwinnett County’s history is sprinkled in everywhere you look. “Today, you can find the statue of Button Gwinnett atop the Mall of Georgia.”
The second unique artifact that GHS houses is a rare draft copy of the U.S. Constitution, one of only about a dozen known to exist. In 1787, Abraham Baldwin served as Georgia’s delegate at the National Constitutional Convention. After fifty-five men gathered to create a representative democracy for this nation, Baldwin returned to Georgia with a copy of the edited draft version of the Constitution. It can be seen at GHS by appointment only and is only on display for public viewing on Constitution Day.
“Our future is directly linked to how we think about the past.” Deaton describes GHS’ outreach and educational efforts. “GHS creates educational curriculum for grades K-12, collects and makes accessible research for all types of archival materials that include the papers of influential Georgians, and publishes cutting-edge scholarships in the Georgia Historical Quarterly and our popular history magazine, Georgia History Today.”
In 1998, GHS became responsible for the state's Historical Marker program. There are over 200 markers statewide that tell the story of Georgia’s past, many of them on subjects like lynching that were deemed too controversial to mark. To search for markers or create your own marker-based driving trail adventure, visit: http://georgiahistory.com/ education-outreach/historical-markers or download the GHS Markers Mobile App.
Deaton is passionate about history, taking pride in teaching Georgia’s past and helping to educate future generations about Georgia's rich history and helping train the next generation of leaders in the 21st century.
“We are not makers of history. We are made by history.” - Martin Luther King, Jr.
To learn more about the Georgia Historical Society, donate, or become a member, visit: www.georgiahistory.com.
To follow Dr. Stan Deaton’s, Off the Deaton Path blog, visit: http://deatonpath.georgiahistory.com
Below: Constitution Day is September 17, 2016. Pictured is Dr Stan Deaton being interviewed by a local media outlet in Savannah for Constitution Day last year.