American history, TV intersect in internship experience for Elon anthropology major

Anthropology major Mary Kate Mauney '23 is studying a pre-revolutionary battle as it relates to one of her favorite televisions shows during an internship in Burlington, North Carolina.

It’s a story of romance, history and … time travel. The “Outlander” television and book series has captivated millions of fans and recently brought its story to Alamance County, which caught the attention of Elon anthropology major Mary Kate Mauney ’23.

“Outlander is one of my favorite shows of all time,” she said. “So when I found out that this big battle in the most recent season happened 20 minutes from campus, I was like, ‘Oh my gosh can I work there?’”

Mauney began her internship at Alamance Battleground in Burlington, North Carolina, at the end of the fall 2020 semester.

Mauney, who’s major focuses on historical archaeology, is referring to the Regulator Rebellion of 1771. It was a pre-Revolutionary War rebellion in which an armed group of backcountry farmers and Scottish immigrants battled with royal governor William Tryon’s militia in a fight over freedom and taxation. The tension culminated in the Battle of Alamance on land now preserved at Alamance Battleground State Historic Site in Burlington, North Carolina.

When Mauney learned that Outlander’s fifth season focused on the Regulator Rebellion and Alamance County, she wanted to find a way to dive deeper into the topic. In search of an internship, Mauney reached out to Alamance Battleground hoping to work at the battle site and combine her passion for archaeology with her love of the historical drama.

“Because of the pandemic, I knew I couldn’t study abroad, but I definitely wanted to do some form of experiential learning,” Mauney said. “And I wanted to do something that was unique.”

Mauney began a fully virtual internship with Alamance Battleground at the end of the fall semester. Her internship is focused on creating an interactive virtual tour of Alamance Battleground that links the site to aspects of the Outlander television series and considers the show’s accuracy in retelling the events of the rebellion.

Outlander season five promotional poster. (courtesy: STARZ)

Additionally, Mauney is analyzing the show’s props, sets and costumes to see if they properly depict life in 1770s North Carolina. It’s part of her effort to gain a better understanding of curation and material culture, or how physical objects – like the red coat of the royal troops in Outlander – represent culture. Mauney appreciates the ability she’s had to tailor her internship experience to her specific interests and area of study.

“Alamance Battleground has been really great at giving me a lot of freedom in what I want to focus on,” Mauney said. “After completing my preliminary research on the Regulator Rebellion, one of my assignments was just watching an entire season of TV, which is awesome.”

Of course, the internship has offered more than just a chance to binge-watch a popular TV show. It’s also helped Mauney tap into her love of historical archaeology and prepare for her future. The Chapel Hill, North Carolina, native hopes to continue her study of archaeology in graduate school and research the impact of rebellions and protests throughout the state’s history.

“Protests and rebellion is such an ingrained part of our culture as North Carolinians, so I think it would be really interesting to try to find out why,” Mauney said. “Why is the Piedmont, and why is North Carolina such a hotbed of rebellion and political intrigue?”

As she hopes to one day answer those questions, Mauney is grateful to have such a strong foundation for her research and the chance to follow her passions while earning classroom credit in the process.

“It’s amazing that Elon gives you the opportunity to pursue whatever you’re interested in,” Mauney said. “I don’t know if I would have gotten four credit hours for researching a TV show anywhere else. I think that’s really unique and Elon is very open to letting students pursue what they’re passionate about.”

Mauney’s virtual tour will be published on the Alamance Battleground website in spring 2021.