Thursday, March 19, 2009

This and That About Reenacting

It's great when a younger person gets excited about reenacting.
It's even better when they say they want to "do it right!"
Over the last few months I have spoken with a few folks in their late teens and early twenties who have not only expressed an interest in Civil War reenacting, but are as excited as kids at Christmas at the prospect of doing so. And then to have them tell me they want to do it "right" from the get-go makes it even better.

I don't know about you, but I have been into history since my age was a single digit (please click And How Long Have YOU Been Into History?) and, as a teen, I would have given my eye teeth to be able to participate in living history. Unfortunately, Civil War reenacting - heck, any reenactments - were almost nil in the 1970's, at least around here. Oh, they were around here and there, but one had to search far and wide to find one. So, for a young person today to be able to live out a dream and live in the past on weekends is a great opportunity for them to experience history in a way that most of us never could at their age.
One of the Civil War units I belong to is pretty much half military and half civilian, and I have been elected as the Civilian Coordinator for this group. No, I'm not in charge of the civilians, I just oversee the civilian contingency and do my best to ensure authenticity in our member's presentations.
It's a job that can be both exasperating and exhilarating. Exasperating because there are times when this position can be very trying due to numerous circumstances, such as trying to make sure everyone is accurate in their presentations at events, especially in their clothing. Exhilarating because I love studying social history and including what I've learned in my monthly articles in our newsletter and in our civilian meetings. And, it's at these meetings I insist that those who attend come in period clothing. This helps to keep everyone on task and in the right frame of mind. Since these gatherings usually take place in the evenings, we conduct them by the light of candles and oil lamps. This, again, helps us to stay focused. We discuss 1st person, our impressions, clothing, scenarios, and, of course, we try and help our newcomers and make them feel welcome. It's a joint operation - as I said, I'm not in charge of the civilians, I just oversee them. We all have a say. And we all pool our historical knowledge into one to improve and authenticate our reenacting experience.

With each passing year, I see improvement. And because of this, I like to think that we are heading toward 'progressive' reenacting. By progressive, I mean to give ourselves a more realistic experience, by doing our best to be "there" - seeing the elephant. Oh, I realize and accept that not everyone wants to participate in this way. And, of course, I would never try to force them. But, a good many of us are making the attempt - and succeeding more and more - and that can only improve our standing with the public when they come to an event.
And it can give us deep satisfaction as reenactors/living historians.
I will be having a civilian meeting this coming weekend, and I am excited because our newest member will be wearing her period clothing out in public for her very first time, and I'm sure she's a bit nervous. But, we all know that once you are around others with the same like-mindedness your nerves ease up quickly, and soon you become a "reenactor."
And there's nothing like it!
And the excitement continues to grow - - -
This afternoon, a young prospective new member phoned me for the very first time - a friend of my high school senior son - and was very interested in joining our unit. After we spoke for a few minutes, she became every bit as excited as anyone can be on the prospect of wearing accurate period clothing and living the life of an 1860's ancestor. And, the more I spoke about living history to her, the more thrilled she became at the idea of becoming a living historian!
The torch is being passed to the next generation, and it's they who will keep this reenacting passion alive for generations to come. Let's teach them to be authentic. Let's teach them to be accurate.
And let's make sure they are not revisionists. As my favorite quote goes: "I do not believe that anyone should rewrite the past just to please someone in the present."
I'm excited!

The above photos were taken by me at Crossroads Village, a very accurately portrayed 19th century open-air museum located in Flint, Michigan. Unfortunately, they do not have a Civil War reenactment anymore, but they are open for having civilian living history events.
The images here were taken at the last Civil War event held there in 2006.
A great place for living history!


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