Saturday, September 3, 2011

Blog: On Reenacting

This is another blogger who has made a rebuttal in response to the idea that Civil War living historians are vapid and are missing the point politically (read: slavery), made by president of Harvard and Civil War author Drew Gilpin Faust.

As someone who has spent the last 15 years in the hobby, this is a subject close to my heart. Most of the other reenactors I have gotten to know are like family (and in some cases, literally are). Granted, you have those who come to a reenactment here and there for no other reason to blow powder. And yes, our group has had its share of shenanigans (safely, of course). But the hobby - indeed, lifestyle - has a lot more to offer than many academic historians would like to admit.

It is not that the majority of living historians are ignorant of, or indifferent to, the politics surrounding slavery which caused the war. It is that, less than 50 years coming off of the civil rights movement (because the Civil War only created more issues of race), there is still a great deal of debate *how* to present slavery and the lives of African Americans during that time in a sensitive manner, especially in a hobby that is overwhelmingly white. So unintentionally, it is usually swept under the rug at these events. Hopefuly in time, there will be more ways of teaching slavery without being offensive.

Still, the hobby is not without merit. Yes, it is a lot of fun. While we cannot completely live as our ancestors did (although some living historians known as hardcores try in every way possible to replicate how soldiers lived, down to counting the number of stitches in their clothing), living history gives us, as well as the audience, the *idea* of how they lived. One can see the styles of clothing that they wore, the type of food they ate, even the way they talked (among first-person reenactors) - everything short of dysentery and amputations. So short of making oneself that miserable - although we've spent quite a few cold, rainy nights in leaky canvas - we can come fairly close to how they lived and raise questions among spectators. Still a more stimulating environment than the traditional books and classrooms, no? Pretty much all living historians will happily talk your ear off when asked.
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