Reenactment, Wikipedia, Historical Relevance

3/15/15

Historical reenactments have always bothered me. I have not been able to understand why people would dress up and act out historical events for the sheer pleasure of “playing.” It seems to me more “valid’ somehow if there is a reason for reenactment, such as a theatrical performance that is aimed at teaching a history lesson or imparting a key message. So the reenactment articles were really interesting to me.

I know a person who does reenactments, and he is enthusiastic about his group’s forays into the historical past. He believes this practice makes history relevant because it brings it into the present – somehow, it’s more “real.” The Levin article raises questions about making the Civil War more real through reenactments. Is this really connecting the past to the present? This part of the article gave me serious pause: “Its preferred view of history flies in the face of the last 40 years of serious scholarship, but more importantly, its narrow view of what it means to remember a Confederate past will likely only continue to pull in folks who place themselves within a larger morality play that blurs the
distinction between past and present.” I thought a lot also about the statement that this practice is “the desire to live in the past – not the present.” How can romanticizing the past be present-focused?

Kowalcyk’s embedment with the reenactors brought me right back to what I think is a core issue with this practice: What is real? What is reality? If this is, as Kowalcyk says, “The hobby of historical pretending,” is it just childhood play amongst adults who choose to tell one version of history? What happens when the facts are wrong, left out, distorted to meet present views? Is reenacting a valid way to remember the past? If yes, whose [historical] memory is it?

Having expressed all of this I must admit these two bloggers’ statements convinced me to go easier on reenactors.

Blogger: “I don’t think there’s anything disreputable about reenacting, but it is more a world ofbuffs and enthusiasts rather than something undertaken by professionals.”

Blogger: “Making history personal: It seems to me a great way to get students more engaged with the past – to envision it as something real and concrete as opposed to a list of dates and events in a book. They want to find something of themselves back there – so the trick is, to me, to do it in a way that doesn’t glorify or hide oppression, but rather uses to reveal something about what it means to be human.”

My final question: Does reenacting make history relevant?

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Pingback: Moving History Forward

Great opening: “The terms “historian” and “entrepreneur” are not often mentioned in the same sentence. The historian studies and writes about the past, while an entrepreneur is focused on innovating for the future and taking risks—and in many instances ends up being the one making history. Historians are not traditionally taught to be entrepreneurs. In the age of new media, however, this is starting to change.”

More thoughts about relevance:
I enjoyed this article, and obviously because I am in the public history program, I believe that we do need to work “outside the academy” to make everyday history relevant to the public. Case in point: the current situation of our beloved history department! I think one thing we can all do is look at history more like a business. It must be grounded, scholarly, and truthful. It must also have the energy of the present. History is not for behind closed doors, or the pages of scholarly journals. It is for us all. If that is true, it must move beyond the walls of academe and into people’s homes and psyches.

The entrepreneurial spirit, such as using technology in our study – and craft – of history, can strengthen our relevance by making it interesting, current, and yes, more accessible to the public.

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Wikipedia Articles

This statistic surprised me that the public is increasingly going to Wikipedia as a research source: 42%. The issue of source verifiability (secondary or primary, as we learned with the articles) is one to consider when searching for information about which we are unfamiliar. I agree with the use of Wikipedia as an initial “go-to place” to find other direction, but never trust it without being a good history detective.

Good blogger quote: “Despite its flaws, Wikipedia is my initial go-to source for information on virtually any subject that an encyclopedia would be expected to cover. NOT because I expect consistent accuracy — but only because it’s a handy tool for priming the pump of my own thinking, AND for offering me links to other sources. Therefore it’s irrational to criticize WP for “obsessive footnotery.” Good grief, the more footnotes, the better — because that just means more resources for the reader to
Investigate.”

The CopyVillain article was great education for me. I had no idea how Wikipedia worked, so to learn about the editing practices and “reliable sources” was great.

So, do we agree with this? “What Messer-Kruse is missing is how the reliable source policy allows Wikipedia to use the larger scholarly process of peer review for its own benefit. By preventing the use of self-published sources, and preferring secondary sources to primary sources, Wikipedia attempts to ensure that information has been subjected to the most vigorous review possible by scholars before being included in the encyclopedia. This is an important potential problem for Wikipedia. It is an even more critical problem for a web-using public that too often allows Wikipedia to serve as their primary, or only, source of information on a given topic.”

I appreciated this blog thought about personal responsibility with Wikipedia and how we can look at ways to influence its accuracy and credibility: “ I think that if you want to influence Wikipedia, it is best to create a profile and be open about your identity, potential conflicts of interests and biases. I actually recommend putting your full name in your profile. I’ve found that having an established track record of high-quality edits
goes a long way. Often, when people see a new edit that they don’t like, they look at who
added it, often to check if it’s vandalism or sloppy scholarship.”

4 thoughts on “Reenactment, Wikipedia, Historical Relevance”

  1. Dressing up for play without purpose is fun though!

    “How can romanizing the past be present focused?”

    Societies romanticize the past all the time in order to encourage certain traits for their members to follow. It’s a little brainwashy, but sometimes helpful? Recently, for example, there has been a push to promote the roles female scientists and engineers have played in our history in hopes of encouraging more girls and young women to pursue similar paths. These female scientists and engineers are presented to the children as flawless beings who defeated all challenges put before them. It might be a ‘white lie’/a romanticized version of history, but its sort of for the present & future benefit of our society. I think people do the same thing with Ghandi. We hold him up as an idol to encourage nonviolent protest, but brush over the fact that he had some pretty sexist views & was a jerk to his wife.

    (Hopefully this comment makes sense & isn’t total gibberish. lol.)

    1. I have to agree – dressing up and pretending is fun. It is something we inherently do as children, but somehow, as we get older, there is somewhat of a social stigma against that. But, I think that the stigma is beginning to crumble as cosplay and Comicons (sp?) become more prevalent.

  2. I was surprised by how many bloggers identified themselves as academic/serious historians, in the Historiann article, with an empathy for the reenactors.

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