Thursday, April 21, 2011

The Public is Here to See You - Please Be Kind

As the reenacting season begins, it's important for us to remember the reason why we do what we do. Okay, so there's more than one reason. But, besides our own love of bringing history to life, we need to make sure that the visitors who come to see us feel welcome.
Please allow me to explain:
I remember years ago when I was a plain old everyday visitor at a reenactment (rather than a participant). My wife and kids and I would admire all of the folks that would show life as it was a over a hundred years earlier. We would visit the military area first; they were always very willing to speak with us, show their muskets and accouterments, and happy to answer any questions we had. My pre-teen sons were especially interested in this.
We would then make our way over to the civilian side of life. We observed as they would prepare the food they were going to cook for their evening meal, hardly looking up to notice us. We watched as they would huddle in their circle, many times with their backs to us. We were keenly aware of the look on their faces when we would 'interrupt' their gathering by asking questions pertaining to a historical nature.
And, we usually left thinking how rude these (mostly) ladies were by snubbing us.
And this happened at more than one encampment. In fact, numerous camps treated us in the same manner.
No, this is not something I am making up to show an example of what not to do, but what actually used to happen to us nearly every time we went to a reenactment.
Me, being the one who was most interested in social rather than military history, would always leave somewhat disappointed. Thinking back, I believe that was part of the reason why we didn't get involved in this hobby years sooner than what we did (click here to learn how we became involved in reenacting).
And, we only continued to return to these reenactments, usually at my insistence, because I really enjoyed speaking to those few who did acknowledge us. Plus, I loved being around so many people who were wearing period clothing, no matter how rude. Heck! I would just ignore them...(or maybe purposely pester them just to tick them off!).
Eventually, through a series of circumstances (click the link above to find out how), we joined a reenacting group - the 21st Michigan.
Since we joined as civilians we had the opportunity to observe a bit more closely the situation at hand - the situation that nearly prevented us from partaking in this wonderful hobby. I noticed it wasn't just us that were ignored by so many as visiting patrons - it was nearly every visitor to the reenactment.

This man is not afraid to speak to the visiting public - and they'll remember this!

Now, if I may, I'd like to regale you with another true story:
Carrie was a student teacher at the school where I worked. During a conversation I was having with the head teacher, Carrie over-heard that I was a Civil War reenactor. The look on her face upon hearing of my hobby was priceless: her mouth dropped in a cartoonish way - seriously - and she stuttered as she made the attempt to speak to me about it. Of course, I was always on the look out for possible new members and I felt young Miss Carrie was a strong candidate.
I was right! She turned out to be an awesome living historian and, like me, strives for authenticity as best as her finances will take her.
A conversation she and I had, however, that nearly prevented her from joining told me I was quite correct in my observance. "I thought you had to belong to an exclusive club!" she stated. "No one ever approached me where I could find out how to become a reenactor."

This couple enjoys speaking to a group of visitors about 19th century farming life!

This brings me to my sermon of the day:
Once I became a Civil War reenactor/living historian, I vowed to myself that I would do my best to make every visitor feel as welcome as I could. I didn't want anyone to leave feeling the way I did all those years ago. Sometimes even a smile or a nod of the head can be enough. But, no one should be ignored, if at all possible.
I am very proud to say that I have kept that vow the best I could, and the other members of my unit do the same (for the most part. There are some that still need work, but they're coming along).
As this year's reenacting season gets under way, I ask you to please remember - if you choose to participate at a reenactment where the public is invited, do not ignore them. Do not turn your back on them. Answer their questions as kindly as you can (here is a blog I wrote on questions reenactors receive). Call the visitor over to visit your campsite - make them feel welcome. And if you happen to be having a meeting of some sort, please designate a member of your group to be the one to speak to the public should some walk up. It certainly is much better than ignoring them.
After all, they did come to see you.



Stephanie Ann said...

This is a very good reminder. I, as a civilian lady, would like to remind the gentlemen of the long list of things they give us to do.

I admit that when I am trying to get lunch made before the men march off while doing numerous dishes, mending clothes and watching children when I see a spectator approaching I REALLY want to just duck into a tent until they pass. (I am one of two ladies in a regiment so we have a lot of work.)

But we can't just ignore spectators. If we are really busy, we will invite spectators to help in safe ways (kneading bread, reading a recipe to us, ect,)or invite them to come back after the battle.

I think a big thing for ladies is that we really don't have anything "prepared" to show spectators. How many cooking and rifle demonstrations can a spectator see?

We always make sure one tent is set up with a "soldier's belongings" laid out so we have something to talk about--even if it's just a toothbrush.

It's hard to think of things to talk about that are not a "special exhibit." We should think of some. That would make a good blog post. Sorry for the essay! :D

Historical Ken said...

Stephanie Ann -
Excellent commentary. And a great idea for a future post!
You know, I see you ladies working your fingers to the bone...and that IS your presentation. I mean, you are in your 'home' right? And, I'm sure you know plenty about what your life is/was like as a woman at home in the 1860's. You can speak of all the things you do: Monday laundry, Tuesday mending and ironing, Wednesday baking and cooking, Thursday indoor cleaning...etc. No time for Oprah or out to lunch with your friends...And expand on each daily chore/topic.
Just a thought.

Pam of Eastlake Victorian said...

What an interesting life and family hobby. I really enjoyed reading your older posts as well. Fascinating!


Historical Ken said...

Thank you Pam. We really do have a great time. You ought to try it.

An Historical Lady said...

Hi Ken,
As a reenactor of 17th and 18th centuries, I couldn't agree more! My husband and I cannot move a foot it seems, at any reenactment, without being photographed by the public. They are most always so appreciative and fascinated. We both feel that talking with the public is the best, and probably most important aspect of reenacting. We are always approachable, and more than happy to engage anyone who comes to a reenactment in friendly conversation, and answer all questions, (and we get many!). We try and make nothing off limits, and even try our best to be polite while eating!
I am embarrassed to say that we too have seen the 'chilly' reception you mention among some (particularly) women at 18thc. reenactments! We had an experience with some just recently at the 'Battle Road' reenactment in Massachusettes. Though we were also there taking part in the battle and events of the day, these few women had their noses up in the air, and were snooty when we tried to politely comment on the wonderful looking food that was cooking over a fire, and engage them in conversation. They were sitting in chairs, and were not inordinately busy at the time. We had a friend---a non-reenactor with us from Texas---a lovely and charming woman, and SHE noticed it, and asked why they were so "unfriendly"! I am ashamed of some of the so-called 'ladies' in reenacting. For the most part they are a very small number, but give other reenactors a bad name. There IS one infamous 'clique' that refer to themselves as the 'ladies of refined taste'. They are sadly, neither ladies, nor refined! Among true reenactors, they have a
'bad rep', and are thought of as ridiculous and contemptible. I personally have witnessed gross gossip, and positively rude and vicious remarks and treatment directed to other ladies present, and nastiness more akin to 13 year old 'mean girls'!

We, and many other serious reenactors do our best to dispell the negativity and bad influences of a few 'bad apples'.
We love the public, and try to always remember that they are the reason we do what we do.
Thanks for a great post.

Historical Ken said...

Dear Historical Lady -
Thank you for your comment. So! Rudeness was there in the 18th century as well (LOL)!
We in the 19th century have ladies organizations quite like the 'ladies of refined taste' you mentioned. Noses high in the air...
Getting the word out is one way that we can hopefully dispel of all the nastiness. Stephanie Ann, who has a wonderful blog called "World Turned Upside Down" wrote kind of a part two to what I wrote ( and I am hoping that more of us that practice living history can spread the word via internet and even our unit newsletters.
Thanks again for your comment. I appreciate it.

PvtSam75 said...

I absolutely agree with Mary, and I too have had some interesting experiences with these "ladies". I personally love talking with the public...actually, I love talking in general, whether I'm dressed military or civilian, about anything people ask quetions about. It's part of our duty as reenactors, and I think people who don't talk with the public just aren't getting the point. We're there to educate, and how can we if we don't talk!

Musings of a Creative Writer said...

I'm friends with Stephanie. I'm going to follow your blog.

Please check mine out: