Not understanding the attraction some people have for historical reenactments, I often wondered if Civil War reenactors were manifesting their Confederate desire to rewrite history with them as the victors. Likewise, Kowalczyk’s article alludes to a certain interpretation of history that most reenactors espouse. This version is the traditional one that glosses over the ugly truths of our nation’s origins, to give us a sanitized mono-story of inexorable Euro-American progress toward today’s status quo. Sometimes this narrative is Panglossian in its “not perfect but the best we can expect” outlook, veering toward complete exculpation in the “men of their day” excuse for genocide and slavery. In a similar point on Historiann’s blog, the author comments that reenactors are typically “middle-aged white men” who “romanticize” the past with assiduous detail to petty issues, such as uniforms, while the important historical questions of injustice, dispossession, and murder are conveniently avoided. Wouldn’t a true, or at least more accurate reenactment portray middle age white men as the agents of evil, not as chivalrous pioneers, soldiers, explorers, or forbears who nobly trail-blazed through savage lands? Levine, writing in the Atlantic, intimates that reenactors may be an older demographic which is struggling to retain a comforting traditional narrative that has changed in their lifetime, dispossessing them of their established privilege while threatening those inalienable “truths” that underpin their value system. A system that is, at the very least, uncomfortable with other voices who question many accepted “facts” about our history.
In exploring another reason why reenactors are compelled to engage in, what apparently can be an expensive and time consuming hobby, Kowalczyk’s informant Old Hickory, explains that he gets his ‘credibility’ from reenacting. Moreover, he describes one event as ‘the greatest thing I’ve ever been a part of.’ Is this sense of purpose in life, in belonging to something bigger than themselves, in essence being part of history, what motivates them? In a previous course text, Nina Simon quotes an author as saying two of the four things a person needs to be happy are ‘time spent with people we like, and the chance to be part of something bigger.’ I can see how reenacting could fulfil the criteria mentioned for many people, just as it could also be a political statement for people who ‘don’t just take the New York Times and go glug-glug-glug.’
Or is reenactment a chauvinistic restatement of might makes right where male strength reasserts itself over encroaching female power in a modern world that seems to be leveled by brain over brawn. Maybe the whole thing is giant game of ‘“cowboys and Indians’” as Kowalczyk implies, seemingly concurring with Historiann who talks of the “childish nature of the fantasies” conducted by reenactors. In this sense people are having fun, being entertained, on the basis of other’s suffering in a macabre situation where people’s “deaths eventually would become someone’s hobby….” As pointed out by some of the authors it does seem strange to consider future reenactments of battles from Iraq or Afghanistan just as there are Civil War and WWII reenactments today.
So is reenactment the adult version of cowboys and Indians, an atavistic expression of human nature, or is it a learned violent behavior? The link to another Kowalczyk article “Manhood, Lorain-style,” seems to suggest it is more nurture than nature while the final lines of the “Embedded” piece implicates nature. But if reenactment can be legitimately questioned why can’t all forms of entertainment, from novels to movies, be questioned? Isn’t there something vicarious about most writing and film work? Are reenactors more indictable than fans of Game of Thrones, or is that sincerely fiction while reenactors are sincere purveyors of one-sided history?
Cohen’s piece in the New York Times on the dearth of women editing/contributing to Wikipedia illustrates the effects of structural constraints and traditionally defined gender roles. As mentioned only about 15% of those who contribute and edit Wikipedia articles are women mirroring the percentage of women in leadership positions as defined by societal norms. Thus, even though there is “no male-dominated executive team favoring men over women,” women appear to be hesitant to join in because their worth is often discounted through marginalization.
The Messer-Kruse and CopyVillian articles raise the always present question of accuracy in history. Is there truth in a historical account, or many truths, or does it always depend on a person’s perspective? Perhaps there is no organic truth in history, but veracity is found in “a larger process of negotiating the truth” as CopyVillian suggests. On a different point but relevant to Wikipedia’s objectivity does it privilege some sources over others? Historically, only elites with education and/or wealth wrote history, advantaging their biases in ignoring or denigrating the masses while defaming their enemies. Does Wikipedia privilege a Western interpretation of history because the rich world has the resources and access to the medium that is unavailable to less well off parts of the world?