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Growing up in Pinehurst, siblings Andrew Soboeiro and Suzanne Newman knew about the lectures on complex medical topics that their father gave to fellow practitioners, but they never got to

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Growing up in Pinehurst, siblings Andrew Soboeiro and Suzanne Newman knew about the lectures on complex medical topics that their father gave to fellow practitioners, but they never got to

Growing up in Pinehurst, siblings Andrew Soboeiro and Suzanne Newman knew about the lectures on complex medical topics that their father gave to fellow practitioners, but they never got to see him deliver a full program for his peers. So when Dr. Michael Soboeiro was scheduled to give a talk at the North Carolina Museum of History, they were not about to let the fact that they both live hundreds of miles away stop them from attending.

Just before noon on January 10 — with Andrew in New York City and Suzanne in Atlanta — they clicked a link and found themselves transported to the downtown Raleigh museum, whisked through the tall glass doors and under the replica Wright Glider to a front-row seat in the auditorium, where their dad enthralled his audience with “The Intersection of History and Medicine.”

“I’m usually too busy to do something like this during the workday, but I was not going to miss it,” says Suzanne, who eagerly awaited the History @ High Noon presentation from her law firm. Andrew likewise carved out time from his responsibilities at a legal services nonprofit in Brooklyn. “I thought to myself, that’s right up his alley, combining history and medicine,” he says. “He did a really good job of providing context and insights to what we now know about blood pressure, heart disease … and how that knowledge might have impacted American history.”

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Helping people appreciate how the past influences the present is part of the museum’s core mission. History @ High Noon and its companion series, History + Highballs, launched after the pandemic lockdown in spring 2020, enabling staff to provide meaningful programming outside of the museum’s physical location — often with presenters who were not typical historians.

The streamed events have helped the museum evolve amid challenges, as it has since its founding 122 years ago as the Hall of History. Prior to 2020, people could bring a lunch to the museum for History à la Carte, a popular series that drew mostly Raleigh residents. The broadcasts reimagine those in-person events and expand their scope.

Exterior of the North Carolina Museum of History

Beyond the North Carolina Museum of History’s physical location in downtown Raleigh, its free virtual series give people located around the world access to the programming. photograph by Joshua Steadman

The free events, also available on demand, are watched by fans across North Carolina, including folks for whom travel to the state capital is not an option. They also attract viewers from as far away as China, the U.K., and Australia. Five hours ahead of Raleigh in Portugal, a friend of Dr. Soboeiro’s logged on to watch his session in real time.

“We have been able to reach more people and have speakers from farther away,” says Kara Leinfelder, the museum’s creative director. “It’s expanded our reach in the best possible way.”

Uncertainty about using new technology is evident in early broadcasts, like the “Montfort Hall: Past, Present and Future” episode of History + Highballs. Guest speaker Sarah Shepherd recalls can-you-hear-me jitters and a glitch that briefly delayed a slideshow tracing the Raleigh landmark’s earliest days through its conversion into Heights House, the boutique hotel that Shepherd owns with her husband, Jeff.

“It was exciting and something we’d never done before,” Shepherd says. “We have a lot of guests who are interested in the history, and we love the opportunity to talk about that with them.”

Perhaps no one fueled audience interest as much as Raleigh actor and director Ira David Wood III, whose June 2020 History + Highballs talk evolved into a contemplation on maintaining one’s humanity in a time of crisis. That opened the door for people who normally engaged with in-person communities to lead programs in their areas of expertise. Topics ranged from instilling the Jewish concept of integrity at Meshugganah, a Charlotte deli, to the global impact of hip-hop.

Greetings from North Carolina mural in the North Carolina Museum of History

Before the dogwood blossom became the official state flower in 1941, the goldenrod was considered one of the North Carolina’s unofficial state flowers. photograph by Joshua Steadman

While many on-site events have resumed, the museum remains committed to presenting virtual history programs each month. Some are hybrid events, with presenters who engage with on-site and online participants. Sandra A. Gutierrez of Cary was featured at one last October to launch her book, Latinísimo: Home Recipes from the Twenty-One Countries of Latin America. She says that the museum’s status facilitated a more in-depth conversation than one likely to occur during a typical book-signing event.

“One of the beautiful things about presenting Latin American foodways through history is that it creates an opening to teach about things that are not comfortable and may be problematic,” Gutierrez says. “Food allows you to present the silver lining in history. It allows you to find that balance and to see what is good for us that maybe didn’t start in a good way.”

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Lively Q&A sessions allow attendees the opportunity to connect with experts, some of whom volunteer themselves to present a program. That was the case with Dr. Michael Soboeiro, the associate program director for ambulatory care at WakeMed’s Internal Medicine Residency, whose presentation was originally developed for fellow medical professionals.

“My dad was a U.S. history teacher, and I’ve always been interested in history,” Soboeiro says. “Medicine and health have long played a significant role in world and U.S. history.”

Soboeiro’s talk explored the medical care — some influenced by now-debunked science, some by bald politics — that impacted the lives of three U.S. presidents. He described how physicians attending the ailing George Washington disagreed over whether he should receive a tracheotomy, not yet a common procedure, or be bled with leeches. The latter prevailed, leaving contemporary scholars to debate his likely preventable death.

“We’ve made real strides in evidence-based medicine, but we need to remember our history and what happened, or we may make the same mistakes,” Soboeiro says.

Dr. Michael Soboeiro inside the North Carolina Museum of History

An internist by day, Dr. Michael Soboeiro has always had an interest in history. He revealed how the two subjects have influenced each other when he volunteered to present “The Intersection of History and Medicine” for History @ High Noon. photograph by Joshua Steadman

During a History + Highballs program last December, North Carolina’s first lady, Kristin Cooper, welcomed virtual visitors to the Executive Mansion to see it decorated for the holidays. She appreciates the format’s friendly, low-key vibe and the potential to bring museum and historic site resources to North Carolinians who might not otherwise get to experience them.

“It’s a joy to see schoolchildren come to the Executive Mansion for a tour,” she says, “but it’s just physically and financially not possible for so many people who would enjoy and benefit from it.”

The power of virtual programs opened a window that need not be shut now that pandemic restrictions are no longer in force. Through that endless view, we can witness history, engage with others, and feel our hearts race to the future — all from the comfort of home.

Tune In: On April 4, the museum will present “Buzzzed: The History of Making Mead,” along with tips for using mead in a new take on a classic cocktail. On April 10, History @ High Noon will celebrate Earth Day with a presentation on “The Fight for the Eno” and the creation of Eno River State Park. To learn more, visit ncmuseumofhistory.org/events-and-programs.

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This story was published on Mar 25, 2024

Jill Warren Lucas

Jill Warren Lucas is a freelance food and culture writer based in Raleigh.