Those of us who love history or have a profession that deals with its’ interpretation may already understand what I am about to share. Study of history and the humanities has relevance to our understanding of many things.
When I state that, I do so with the realization that even though I’ve been involved in living history demonstrations and portrayals for over three decades, I am still learning and discovering. This awareness makes me reflect differently on many things around me today. I tend to find connections between events and various factors of everyday living that provide me a broader perspective than I had perceived before. Living history portrayals and historic re-enactments take on a totally new and vital role in what they offer us today. They make history relevant.
Making Re-enacting Relevant
Our history helps to define who we are. That can also work the other way around.
Take for instance the amount of misinformation our electronic media can spread. How many of you have been duped into believing a post about something that turned out to be erroneous or a complete hoax?
Well, just as there are ‘re-enactor isms’ in our hobby there are also misrepresentations and other miscommunications that we perpetuate. Re-enacting is not just all about a bunch of grown men playing ‘army’ and camping out on the weekend. The hobby came about in an effort to memorialize important events in our past. In a sense re-enacting attempts to create a living history to make such monumental events and words such as Lincoln’s “. . . the world will little note nor long remember what we say here. . .” into vivid illustrations for our collective memory.
Defensive guns of Ft. Clinch State Park overlooking the Atlantic and St. Mary’s river, FL.
Windows of Learning
What we do is remembered and it can have a lasting impression on others. That’s
what events in time do for us. They help us to remember and hopefully learn from our history. This is all the more reason why we as re-enactors must be actively involved in educational activities when we do our portrayal. Each time we dawn a uniform or civilian garb we create a window of learning opportunity. If you or your unit are not seizing these moments to share more than the conflict our presence represents then you are merely playing games.
For real learning of the lessons of our history to take place we must learn more about what we ourselves portray. We need to know about how the people lived and be able to relate it to our present.
Are You Teaching Anything?
Think about. Is what you are doing creating more of an awareness and a learning experience? If you are not sure then you need to be evaluating what you are doing. Look for ways of interaction that indicate you are effectively engaging people. See how your portrayal can link to their everyday lives. This important if learning is to occur. If we cannot relate to others the relevancy of what we do then we are truly doing disservice to all of those who we portray that gave us the heritage we have today.
French is a veteran re-enactor with the 2nd Florida Volunteers Co. E, historian, writer, and executive director of the West Volusia Historical Society, DeLand, FL. His novel, Time Will Tell: The Awakening blends his knowledge of history and re-enacting into a time travel adventure set at the ending of the War Between the States.