I would like to preface this posting in hopes that it doesn't come
off in the wrong way, lest anyone think of me as a living history snob.
Though I participate in as many forms of reenacting that one is able
(yes, even some 'parking lot' events), I am writing here specifically on
one type - immersion - with a strong lean on living history, and therefore am excluding the other forms.
You have been forewarned...
the way, I am by no means claiming to be an expert here; these are my
own thoughts, opinions, and ideas about the immersion experience) - - - -
im'mer'sion (ih-mur-zhun, -shun)
state of being deeply engaged or involved; absorption
I delve deeper into the world of living history I find myself wanting
to experience a state of total immersion into the mid-19th century. More
and more the feeling grows of wanting to sense the feeling of "I am there
Of wanting to sense the dizziness of "I really traveled through time - I made it!"
taking every step to make sure that when I transport myself into the
past that there is no 1979 penny to unwittingly "bring me back to the
future" ~(remember that scene from the movie "Somewhere in Time
when Richard Collier, after traveling through time to 1912, discovers a
penny from 1979 that immediately brings him back to his original time
in the future? If not, click HERE
and bump up to 6:30 on the video to rattle your memory banks and see what farb can do!).
I have been very lucky to have experienced full immersion a number of times. Mostly, however, my immersions have been almost
full immersions - - - really fine experiences that, for all intents and purposes, were about 90% there.
It's the 10% that I need to work on.
Now, by using (and agreeing with) the above definition please allow me to clarify a bit here my addition explanation
to the definition and opinion of just what an immersion experience
you ever stepped into a restored historic house and it seemed to
totally engulf your every being? Where the sight, sound, smell, and
touch of the past almost literally consumed you? Yeah? Now, imagine that
feeling while wearing period clothing.
Do you feel it?
With that in mind, imagine seeing others in period clothing while in that same situation. Remember, nothing modern
in sight, sound, or smell.
Do you see what I mean?
the thought of this while sitting in front of your computer screen has
nearly brought you there, hasn't it? That is, until I just now mentioned
' - that blew it and brought you right back to the 21st century (kinda like the 1979 penny). Sorry...
Anyhow, that's just a mental taste of immersion. Just imagine actually experiencing it...
Please allow me to define my thoughts for a moment on the 'umbrella' phrase of "living history":
living history, which, by definition, is the recreation of living
conditions of the past, can take place at any historical (or make-shift
historical, such as at a reenactment camp) location, whereas immersion should have virtually nothing beyond the time you are portraying within sight.
I have done numerous day-immersions lasting six to eight hours - even up to 14 hours - which can
give the over-all same sense that one can get when the time frame is,
for instance, a full weekend...to an extent
|Our candle-lit dresser from the 1850's|
There are those who have been lucky enough to be at a non-public event,
inside of a real period home, able to cook, eat, clean, sleep, and,
in said period home for a few days at a time and
actually experience the closest one can get to true time-travel:
immersion. To me, however, it's not necessarily the amount of time that
matters, but the quality and accuracy of time (though there is something
to be said of the idea of knowing you were going to go to bed to the
light of a candle or oil lamp and awaken to the same - this is something
I dream of doing one day). For an immersion experience, there does not
have to be a set amount of time one needs to be fully engulfed in a
time-travel encounter, though, as hinted at above, the longer you are in
that 'zone,' the better it will be.
A good example of the
difference between immersion and living history occurred in the spring
of 2012 when I held a living history day (with an attempt at immersion)
in my own parlor at my home (An Afternoon in the Parlor
). Now, this room is not 100% historically accurate - - it's close, but there are still modern-isms about -
unobtrusive, but they're still there. One only needs to look out the
windows to see the electrical wires, cars, and the rest of the 21st
century world. So, though we did our best to attempt immersion, by my
own definition it was actually living history. However, the furniture,
wall covering, and lay out is very period, as you can see by the
|This image shows the one half of our parlor room. The open space is where our dining table normally sits. I moved it out of the way for this photo.|
here is most of the other half of the room. The opposite corner shows
the doorway that leads into the kitchen, which is modern. |
this room one can easily block out the intrusions of the modern world,
and, as you can see, strong living history can be done here, though
technically not immersion. I just wish more men would get involved!|
And there was no public around - - it was a day just for us.
though it was more living history than immersion, our parlor day went
quite well, for the most part, and I learned quite a bit from it, with
one of the most important lessons being - and this is a hard one for me -
to back off from taking so many photos with my oh-so-modern digital
camera during immersion events. Yes, I've known this for a long while
and I just simply pretended that pulling the ol' Sony out doesn't affect
Well, it does.
I suppose what I could do is
once the 'time' has ended I could pose the participants to recreate
certain moments. That would probably be my best bet. That's what I'll
most likely do in future immersion
(By the way, I wrote a posting about cameras at events HERE
thing I learned is that time is needed beforehand to get into the frame
of mind required to pull something like this off. This plan helped me
greatly at the Christmas at the Fort
in December; I was at the historic house for a couple of hours
beforehand, all dressed and ready to go, and that really set the tone.
All of us who participated planned out our scenario and got used to our
new roles, for to make this scenario work we needed to become a cohesive
unit. All of this gave me the chance to get the feel for what was to
come and, in being surrounded in history, brought me out of the
"visiting" mode and into the "I am there" mode.
Because of touring
groups this was not full immersion, but it was an immersion experience
nonetheless due to our period surroundings - nothing modern in sight or
sound - and the fact that we stayed in 1st person and in our roles
throughout the day.
|My 1862 family: it was a bit difficult initially but came together beautifully.|
And this brings me to one the most important lessons
I've learned in all of this: to have any type of immersion experience -
to make it truly work - one must present themselves as a person from
the past, not only in front of the visitors, but to themselves and other
living historians. In order to be there
, I had to believe
there during the duration.
This means all future knowledge and ideologies must be cast aside and all thought and spoken word is of the period.
This means presenting yourself with a full immersion attitude that no matter
who is with you, you must continue to keep your period presence at all
times (except for an emergency - need I even say this?).
|Here is young lady (who I have spoken of in previous postings) that does a wonderful job in her portrayal as a domestic servant. Carrie, like Kristen in the photos below, takes her role seriously and continues her domestic duties even when the public is not around. She has learned how to act as a servant and puts that knowledge to work in her portrayal. |
this can be rather difficult for a number of reasons. One is the lack
of social historical knowledge from so many; there are too many
Hollywood historians out there - the folks that get their history
lessons from the movies. They know what the directors want them to know,
and we all realize just how inaccurate most Hollywood movies can be.
are others who try immersion but might only have knowledge on the
period clothing they wear and maybe attempt to utilize Gone With the
Wind vernacular (more Hollywood! oh, fiddle dee dee!), but,
unfortunately, have little awareness of the times in which they pertain
to be living in. I find this frequently:
dressed to 1860's
perfection with a 21st century mindset. That's only telling half the
story, isn't it? It would be like some future reenactor reenacting 2013
and knowing nothing about smart phones, ipads, digital cameras,
downloads, or of the current hot music, movies, and TV shows, yet
looking just like my very contemporary daughter or son does now.
to do this now and again - I know I do - but gaining knowledge of the
times is of utmost importance and must be at the forefront not only for
immersion but for any
reenactment. I am doing my best, for my part, to bring this down to a minimum.
difficulty - and it can be a trial - is to be able to overcome the
thought that "immersion is silly...play acting." I have actually been
told this by other reenactors. But then, if one feels this way, why,
pray tell, are they wearing the period clothing in the first place? Why
'die" in a mock battle? Heck! Why even have a mock battle?
like Carrie in the above photo, is one who does a superb job in her
role as an 1860's school teacher. She does whatever role she takes on -
usually a school teacher - very seriously. At the Christmas at the Fort event she portrayed my daughter, and truly acted as such. By the way, notice the children in this school photograph are separated by sex, just as was done in the 1860's.|
| There were no modern tourists here - just the teacher and her students. And the kids paid attention! A fine job!|
I don't know...maybe living history or immersion
embarrasses some people, which can happen. This is why there are the
reenactors that should stick to reenactments and not participate in an
immersion event; they should graciously excuse themselves and not take
away what others are attempting to accomplish. It's a sad fact, however,
that many really don't care, for they think "immersion is silly...play acting
," and, therefore, will refuse to take part, and yet continue stick around and, to be honest, ruin it for the others.
But anyone that does a 1st person/
full immersion presentation should pay them no mind.
|A Federal army invades a southern town while the townsfolk look on, not sure what to do or where to go. Incorporating the military and civilians should be done more frequently. After all, we are the citizens being affected by the discourse.|
Let's break off a moment here and talk about what
exactly is 1st person. I have spoken of 1st person in many previous
postings, but let's take a quick refresher course -
To many reenactors, 1st person is this:
(Reenactor speaking to modern visitors): "Hi.
Welcome to our home. You have just stepped into 1863 and we are showing
you the way we lived back then. This is my wife and she is spinning on
her spinning wheel. We are using period utensils to eat with. I am the
postmaster and have the kind of envelopes people used back then. My
daughter is writing to her soldier brother off fighting somewhere in the
south. Honey, can you come over here and show these people your
Now, something like this might
you are at a reenactment on the field in front of your tent where
visitors are milling about, inquiring what we're all doing there. And it
can work well in that situation.
But it's really not 1st person.
Oh, it might have a feel of 1st person, but it's more of a 3rd person,
or even what I call 2nd person - a combination of 1st and 3rd. Many
museum presenters, such as the Firestone Farm docents, utilize this sort
of presentation (though much better than in the way I wrote it here!)
and it really does work well for the hundreds of thousands of curious
visitors that step through the doors every year.
But it is in no way 1st person speak.
how should I speak to visitors during a full immersion event? Well, if
it's a true full immersion event, there will not be any modern visitors
about, including tour groups.
Can there be immersion with a few modern-isms around?
suppose, depending on how obtrusive these modern-isms are. It would not
be 'full immersion,' however. It would be more along the lines of a
strong living history similar to the Christmas at the Fort event, where
tour groups came every-so-often, or the Parlor Day event, with the
modern-isms, that are mentioned and linked above.
So, let's combine the two -
a family is enjoying their time together, spending the evening singing
popular songs of the day, reading books and magazines, crocheting a
blanket, and playing parlor games. A tour group walks up to observe this
portal to the past. One member of the living history group
inconspicuously leaves the 1860's scene and moves over to the tour group
and begins to speak with the visitors, letting them know - in a
combination 1st & 3rd person - about family life during the
Civil War. The speech only lasts a few minutes, and the other living
historians act as if the tour group is not even there, and
they continue on as if their family member (the presenter) only stepped
out of the
room for a moment, perhaps to visit the necessary. Once the speech/
is over, the presenter bids the guests a farewell and returns back to
the 1860's group...returns to the past...and continues as if the tour
group was never there.
|Note: if you look closely, you can see the living historians in the room behind me going about their merry way, totally oblivious to the 21st century folk in the foreground.|
This is a fine way to present 1st person, 3rd person, strong living history, and even, dare I say, immersion.
of what I wrote here is, as I stated at the beginning, mostly my own
thoughts and opinion. But I've experienced nearly everything I've
written and I cannot express the satisfaction I receive while doing it.
The feeling is unexplainable...it's really a sort of time-travel...
Reenacting, in all honesty, in its purest form, is more than just clothing, for without the historical knowledge, the clothing only tells a part of the story.
It's more than just historical knowledge, for without the clothing and presentation, historical knowledge would be nothing more than sitting and listening to a teacher in a history class at school.
And it's more than just presentation, for without clothing or knowledge, what would you present? Would you read directly from a history book and show pictures?
Yep - all three are needed, and when done correctly, living history - and especially immersion - is an experience like no other...
for an immersion experience that took place after this post was written~
*I have shown in my photos only a smidgeon of the wonderful reenactors/living historians in the 21st Michigan. I must say that I am very proud of the civilians in my reenacting unit, for they are taking the steps to go beyond the "camping in funny clothing" attitude. Click HERE to read on how our civilian meetings are conducted.
There are many in the 21st not shown or mentioned here, but I have nothing but high regard for them.