These people think they are public historians. They are not. They are playing. They are not educating anyone, they are putting on a show, and not a very good one at that. Still, they get press coverage because of their "living history" notions and so obscure and marginalize the broader ramifications of the past. This is wrong and should be stopped.
Although most participants in living history have no real idea about what they are doing, it is none the less valuable. How many times have you heard from students "I hate history, it is so boring"? Perhaps if they were first entertained they might then move on to serious inquiry. I am an historian, a writer a researcher and a participant of living history. I engage in living history for a number of reasons. I want to make history interesting for my students so they will pay more attention and I believe the studying first hand the discomforts of the past provides me a better vantage point from which to instruct concerning our ancestors.
I am not so certain students study the discomforts - and that's putting it mildly - of the past through living history. But, let's say they do.
But they learn - I presume we ar talking about the Civil War here - less from the reenactor than from the words he/she uses. And, those words are limited to the Civil War. What about other time periods and events? Should a lynch mob be reenacted? Or the stench of public streets in 19th century cities, to say little of diseases. What about industrial warfare, Pinkertons vs. the workers? Could they learn something about that by reenacting those? What about the sheer boredom the Civil War soldier faced? How much of his time was actually spent in fighting? Very little, I would venture. Honestly, I can see the value of making a field trip to a reeanactors' camp, but I doubt it's more to the students than a day, or a few hours, out of the classroom.
Perhaps it does, however, give you a better outlook from which to instruct them about our ancestors, but they were no more monolithic than we are. And I think that it's less about our ancestors ("my ancestors came over on the Mayflower!") than about processes of change, social interaction, economies, native Americans, women, children, blacksmiths, brewers, street gangs, ad infinitum.
I still say reenactors are not public historians, they are reenactors. This is not a bad thing, but it is a dichotomy that should be recognized.
It turns out there are reenactments of lynchings:
Post a Comment