Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Are You A Reenactor or a Living Historian?

In many of my postings that concern my time-travel hobby, I intertwine the words 'reenactments' and 'living history.' This has not gone unnoticed by a few.
"So which is it?" I have been asked. "Living history or reenacting?"
"Do you know which is which?"
Both terms are very closely related and can easily fall under the same meaning. My definition of 'reenactment' is: to replay a historical event, such as a battle like Pickett's Charge from Gettysburg, or an important moment of the past - Generals Lee and Grant at Appomattox in April 1865, for example. 'Acting' is the root word of 'reenacting,' is it not? So acting out an important event in history, where role-playing by prominent historical figures takes place, would be reenACTING, right?
But, couldn't that be called living history as well?

U.S. Christian Commission -
Living History or Reenacting?

Of course it could, seeing as the viewer seemingly has history come alive before their very eyes. But, it's more acting out history rather than living history, isn't it?
On the other hand, when one dresses in period clothing and can show folks how one lived during times past by way of everyday life (chores, occupation, etc.), and maybe carry on in a 1st person vernacular, I would say that is more living history rather than reenacting.
When I visit a museum - or even a, ahem, reenactment, and the presenters are dressed in everyday period clothing, doing everyday period chores, but speak to me in modern tongue, that is not living history or reenacting. That's a visual way of teaching about life as once lived. But, put that same everyday person in the mindset of "I am now in 1862" with a good understanding, perception, and knowledge of the era to boot, and it's then you will see history come to life...living history. If done correctly, this not-famous-in-history person can (and should) be able to explain to you, sometimes only be action, their life in 1862 as if it is happening at that moment.
Or dress that same person up to look like Abraham Lincoln and another person to dress like General Grant, and have them study the figures they represent - their speech patterns and mannerisms and, of course, knowledge of said historical figures - then have them speak to each other about their ideas on how to win the 'current' Civil War, and you now have a reenactment of an actual historic event.

Grant and Lincoln -
Reenacting or Living History?

Do you see the difference?
The two words/phrases, however, of reenactment and living history have been so closely related due to the famous battles being the main event that the word reenactment seems to now encompassed the whole genre.
Which is why I intertwine the two categorical phrases in my writing, because at most...ahem...reenactments that I participate in, both acts take place, many times interchangeably.
Which can be another story in itself!



Eastlake Victorian said...

Fascinating! I like your definition. I guess I've seen both. You are right, when done well, both will bring you back to another era.


Unknown said...

Good work. I'm one of those who do 1st person at reenactments as a commissary sergeant/ cook for the 35th Indiana / 1st Fighting Irish Volunteer Infantry. I started as a reenactor in 85 and it lead me down many liberaries researching to what I do today. I hope to get my grandchildren interested.