Living History

As someone who has participated in living history, the attitude toward reenactors as kitschy bothers me a lot. While it is true that many such installations are created by amateur historians, said amateurs did not simply pluck their ideas from the ether and call it fact. Most of us have spent the majority of our lives reading academic books and articles on our topics, and strive for accuracy to the point of absurdity (see Dr. Madsen-Brooks’s comment about how questions about Civil War battlefields devolve into discussions about historically accurate buttons). While its true that reenactors have the potential to provide inaccurate information, the majority of people involved are only there because they have so much passion for the time period that minutiae like buttons are fascinating to them, and they wish to share that passion with others.

Additionally, these installations provide valuable insight into the lives of people long gone. I had read about medieval cloth weaving techniques, and seen curated examples of medieval cloth, but I did not have a fraction of the understanding for the time and labor weaving cloth takes until I watched a woman work a medieval-style loom. Living history presentations are essential for someone who cares not only that a process occurred, but how.

History has a lot to gain from the inclusion of artists of various kinds. Certainly they lend a visceral component to history that is generally not present in curated collections alone. The concern that what artists lend to the conversation may not be entirely historically ‘correct’ is a valid one–however it is also true that many amateur historians and artists have valuable contributions to make to the overall understanding of how the past was experienced by those who lived it.

2 thoughts on “Living History”

  1. Passion is everything! I am a big believer in letting passion drive projects. While I am a big fan of the discipline and academia of history, I am also a big fan of letting communities and groups of people drive public and living history. It’s people like reenactors and amateur historians that can really spark conversations in the realm of history.

  2. I don’t think living history is kitschy at all. My experience at Fort Niagra was incredible. And as nice as the displays, museum, artifacts, et all were, it was the woodsman, the artillery officers, and the young woman outside the fort that described the interaction between her people and the Europeans that really put the icing on the cake. I think even if it’s done by amateurs in an amateur way it provides something that items under glass just can’t.

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