Power Struggles in Public History

As I read “Embedded with the Reenactors” I could see author Nick Kowalczyk struggling with a major qualm public historians face regularly, “How do I advocate for the appropriate practice of history while also maintaining empathy for those who happen to practice it incorrectly?”

On one hand, this regiment of reenactors and his host, Old Hickory, were kind enough to welcome Kowalczyk into their world. Despite this, he finds himself uncomfortable around the reenactors due to big ethical questions such as, “… I couldn’t help but imagine the 348 people who died and the many others who were injured or suffered. When they trembled for their lives could they ever have imagined that a bloodless, G-rated recreation of their deaths eventually would become someone’s hobby?”

I agree with Ann Little’s assessment that Kowalczyk’s article raises more questions than he does to answer them. Personally, I would have loved to see reenactors engage and try to answer some of Kowalczyk’s big ethical questions. I have friends who are members of misunderstood hobbyist communities who frequently have to defend themselves when outsider journalists publish articles similar to “Embedded with the Reenactors.” I’m certain that the reenactors have also spent some time wrestling with the ethical questions Kowalczyk asks in his piece. Perhaps they could have provided him with some insight. For example, where Kowalczyk finds it blasphemous to reenact death scenes, perhaps reenactors see it as a way to honor the dead.

I appreciated Dr. M-B’s decision to pair the reenactment articles with the Wikipedia articles. When it comes to reenactors, professional historians have a certain authority. However, when it comes to the wilds of the Internet, degrees don’t necessarily mean anything. It is an interesting power reversal. Famiglietti’s article perfectly summed up my thoughts about Messer-Kruse’s anti-Wikipedia rant.

As for the lack of women editors on Wikipedia, perhaps holding classes on how to edit Wikipeda could combat the all-male editor trend. I always see libraries holding courses on how to use Word or send e-mail, why not have more intermediate classes specifically targeting women who are well versed in technology, but not necessarily in a position to pursue a computer science degree?

One thought on “Power Struggles in Public History”

  1. I really think the death scenes in reenactment are no different from watching movies. Its all play and make-believe and if reenactors are derided for it so should all Hollywood.

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