Monday, July 27, 2009

But, it was invented in 1863! That means I can Use it!

Reenacting tip:
Just because something was around or invented during the Civil War does not make it acceptable at a reenactment.
Let me give an example: pasteurized milk was invented by Louis Pasteur in (I believe) 1864. A 'know-it-all' will sit at their camp, speaking not only of the process of pasteurization, but will also speak of the bacteria the process kills, thus making a healthier drink. This person will then pull out milk to drink, stating quite confidently that it is the newly invented pasteurized milk.
I can tell you here and now that would not have happened in the 1860's. No way, no how. It wasn't until well after the turn of the 20th century before Louis Pasteur's invention took hold.
Another example, albeit in a different vein - - - let's say it's 200 years in the future and these future folks are reenacting (for some odd reason) the era of the 1970's. A futuristic person does research and finds out that the first computer sold for home use to the general public was in the mid-1970's. So, Mr. Future-man says, as he puts a replica antique computer on his desk, "It was first sold in the 1970's so I can use it for my presentation!"
Now, I don't know about you but I saw my first home computer in the 1990's, and that was a rarity. Virtually no one had a PC in the 1970's.
Are you understanding what I'm trying to say here?
I could give plenty more examples of this if you'd like. Just think about the inventions in your own lifetime: the compact disc was invented in 1965. I know of no one who had a CD back then. Or in 1975. Heck, or even in 1982!
But, there are those who feel justified to speak, have, or know about something while participating in a Civil War reenactment just because "it was invented in 1861."
Unlike today, news did not travel very fast in the mid 19th century, so, in Louis Pasteur's case, I am sure the greater majority of people of all classes living in the U. S. in 1864 did not hear of his process until much later. And, when they did, I would still bet the greater majority did not even understand what it was.
Or even cared.
Not that the Victorians weren't smart. Quite the contrary, as most of you well know. But, germs and bacteria and the like were beyond most average folks understanding at that time. Not unlike we here in the 21st century attempting to explain a radio or television to one living in 1860, transmitting radio waves through space. That would certainly be beyond their comprehension...just as many of the planned futuristic inventions yet to come in our own modern time can make our heads spin.
If you want to do an accurate impression at a reenactment, you'd be best off studying the decade previous as well as reading period newspaper and magazine advertisements and articles.
That will allow you to give the folks (as well as yourself and your co-living historians) a much better presentation.
Here's a little something to get you started:
Completion of Jackson Biography and Civil War Ads


Jules said...

Wonderful blog! I can see I shall be a regular visitor, I am a re-enactor myself here in England...pleased to find you!

Historical Ken said...

Thank you Jules for your kind comments.
I, too, will be following your blog as well.
Great fun to read.

Deborah said...

Since I haven't research all of the 1800's nor lived during that time I can't say if your dates are accurate. But since I do live now and through the last half of the last century I have to say you are not quite so accurate on your dates of modern items. I feel that if you are going to use a modern item for compareson it would be good to make sure your dates are correct. I owned a personal computer in the early 80's. It may not have been a dell or hp but it was a personal computer. In fact when I was working on my teaching degree in the 80's I had several computer classes learning how to write a program. I even signed up to take a course via the phone line on my computer. It wasn't to successful but it was all available in the 80's. When I started teaching in the mid 80's all the schools had computer labs. So how rare it was to have a home computer before the 90's, I think there were more in peoples homes then you think.
I promise you I would not spent time talking about pasturization of milk at an event. But thanks for talking about it.

Historical Ken said...

Hi Deborah -
Thanks for writing.
I appreciate your input.
You may have misunderstood what I wrote - I didn't say that no one had a pc in the 1980's, I was implying that it was a rarity as compared to the 1990's when the pc really took off.
I personally never saw a home computer until around 1991.
Pasteurization: Yeah, I know - not a big deal and perhaps maybe not the best example but, believe it or not, I did have someone speak about pasteurized milk at an event like it was big news. Sounds silly but it's one of those things that drive me up a wall.