Thursday, August 12, 2010

From the Outside, Looking Back

I ramble about reenacting a lot. It's a huge part of what I do, where I've been, who I am. I'm in heaven from the moment I set up my skunky canvas tent to the last measures of the fifes and drums playing "Point of War" at evening troop. I actually enjoy piling on stays and petticoats and gown, even when it's too darn hot for them or when they aren't substantial enough to keep me warm in the cold. I'm a touch obsessed.

But "other people" don't always get this. I've read plenty of disparaging remarks about the hobby, from its participants' stability to the level of research. Some of this comes from the odd nut here and there, as any group will harbor (though, given that we handle real weapons, we tend to ferret those kooks out pretty quickly). Some of it comes from our early years, when many reenactors were less concerned with research and authenticity, and simply didn't have the resources we have today. Much of it comes from simply not understanding what we do.

One funny anectdote--I once wrote a paper for a history seminar in college about the benefits of living history and reenactment as pedagogical tools. The thesis was constructed against a quote found in an article I read researching the topic--that reenactors were merely amateurs out to play soldier for the weekend. This made me hopping mad. Yes, we're amateurs in that we aren't professional historians (well, I modify that--some of us actually are historians and teachers by profession, but that's beside the point). And yes, much of what we do is focused on the military. But play--play implies we're only doing it for ourselves. We aren't, simply are not. We're doing it so, as my organization's motto states, "that others may learn."

So I wrote this paper, with the quote emblazoned at the top and a fiery thesis statement against this concept, and popped it into my professor's box--only to realize that the quote I had just written a ten-page paper disproving had been made by another professor at my university, as his box was directly above hers. Well, oops. But how's this for academic honesty (or perhaps my prof thought him a bit of a stuffed shirt, too)--the paper earned an A.

I was thinking about what our hobby must look like to outsiders this morning because the inimitable M.M. Bennetts just posted reflections on a visit to a Napoleonic reenactment. It was refreshing to read the observations and impressions of someone outside the hobby with a keen appreciation for history--and a clear appreciation for what reenactors do.

As I mentioned in my comment to M.M.'s post, we love visitors. We reenact because we love it, but also because of our visitors--their questions, their enjoyment, the insistent belief that they're learning something about which we care passionately. Check out the schedule of an organization in your area and make a trip to see them in action--and don't be shy about approaching the participants with questions or just to chat.

Linked below, several schedules for several top-notch organizations of which I am aware. There are more; I just don't know about all of them and unfortunately have little grasp on the living history community outside of the American Revolution.

NWTA--Midwestern United States; Revolutionary War

BAR--Contingents across the United States (includes Eastern, Southern, Western subgroups); Revolutionary War

Continental Line--East Coast United States; Revolutionary War

British Brigade--East Coast United States; Revolutionary War


Noelle Pierce said...

I saw Bennetts' post this morning and immediately thought of you. I know they do it in my area, I'm just waiting for the sweltering oven to turn itself off before venturing outside to go visit one. I think my kids would LOVE it!

Rowenna said...

LOL Thanks Nicole :) Definitely check one out--the kids are bound to have a fun time (just prep them on the "cover your ears when the artillery is going off" drill :) ).

Jill said...

My local community has a Civil War reenactment every year. It is a way of preserving our local history and the role our town played in the Civil War. This is very important--more important than it may appear on the outside--because New Mexico wasn't even a state at that time. Reenactments are visual images history that are, perhaps, more memorable than what we read in history booksw. Plus, most history books won't tell of the battle that occurred right here in Socorro, NM.

I still remember the colonial life/Revolutionary War reenactment that I attended as a child. The images are forever trapped in my mind. What do I remember from history class in school? Almost nothing.
Reenactments are important! So keep up the fun and know that you are also carrying the torch of the past forward.

Kat Zhang said...

LOL. I would have freaked out if I'd discovered I'd written a paper against a proff at my uni, haha. ;P

Miss Rosemary said...

Oh dear. You must have wanted to die! At least the profs weren't rivals or you might not have gotten that A!

Rowenna said...

Jill--I'm glad your community supports your local event. That's fantastic! We don't have very many Rev War battle sites here in the Midwest, so we'll have events even where there is no direct tie, to give people a sense of the time period without having to haul to the East Coast.

Kat and Miss R.--I know, I felt like such a moron! But, looking back, I'm glad I didn't know--the guy was completely mistaken, and if I'd known he was a collegue of my prof, I wouldn't have written as honest of a paper.

dolleygurl said...

We went to Sturbridge Village this past weekend and they had their annual Revolution battle. It was so fun and so LOUD. And as I saw the women running around with the buckets of water, I thought about you! (I remembered your previous posts).

sharmon said...

We live near Resaca where a Civil War battle took place (mentioned in GWTW, BTW. The road we live on was marched on by Sherman's men and the church beside our house housed Union soldiers and was a makeshift hospital. We love our history, and sometimes people think that means we support slavery in some way--NOT. Our area was very rural and made mostly of small farms, not plantations. Most from this area did not own slaves and weren't fighting for it. They were fighting for States Rights. I'm so glad that God in his providence kept our country whole, and that slavery was abolished. But I am very proud to say that I've been to the Battle of Resaca reenactment and it was a scene I'll never forget. Bringing history to life is an honorable and needful thing.
And you get to wear really cool clothes. I think it's great.

Rowenna said...

Dolley--I know, the noise isn't what you'd expect! And believe me--it's even louder right next to it (especially right next to the cannons!).

Sharmon--so true, people often want to get confrontational about even the Revolution because of the slaveowning Founding Fathers. I understand that intrigue, but I hope that we do at reenactments shows people that, on the ground, things didn't seem all too clear to the ordinary person deciding to become involved, on which side, maybe to just stay out of it...that history is made up of all types of people with all sorts of motivations and difficulties.

And the clothes are awesome, definitely!