Hot! Things I Wish Reenactors Would Stop/Start Doing

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At the risk of sounding bitchy or starting a flame war, I have a few gripes with the reenacting hobby that I feel need airing.  I absolutely love reenacting, and after sixteen years in the hobby I’m not going to be leaving it any time soon, but as with everything, I feel that there’s always room for improvement. Some things bother me more than others, and though I am far from perfect myself (and indeed have been guilty of some of my own complaints in the past), I feel that the hobby as a whole would be greatly improved with a few changes.

So, here are a few things I’d love to see change in the reenacting hobby:

(Note: These are non-period-specific, and some apply more in some eras than others.)

STOP:  Washing your clothes so damn much!

START:  Letting your clothes show wear.  If you must wash your reenacting clothes, wash them by hand in a sink or bathtub and hang dry them.

I have a confession to make: during my first five years in the reenacting world, my clothes were never washed.  Not once.  Most reenactors get the same wear out of their clothing in three years that their real life counterpart would have gotten in two weeks. As a result, many reenactors are far cleaner than they should be.  I’m not saying that everyone should look like they’ve just woke up in a dung heap, but Vietnam fatigues should look like they’ve been through a few rainstorms, petticoat hems should look like they’ve been outdoors, and shirts of all eras should look like they aren’t reacquainted with Chlorox every week.  Your clothing should have an appropriate amount of wear, be that what it will, and should be correctly washed when you do so.  Also, if you’re doing a military impression of any era or an early period civilian impression, let your clothes get some wear on them.  Let them hang from a tree branch for a week, drag them around on the sidewalk a bit, etc.  You don’t have to (nor should you) destroy your clothing, but at least break it in a bit!

STOP: Using historical misogyny as an excuse for modern day misogyny.

START: Thinking about the real reason that you’re treating women the way you are.

This has become such a problem in the hobby in recent years that I actually am soon going to be posting a series of entries by female reenactors, detailing the treatment they’ve experienced at events.  There are many, many different reasons that misogyny is such a problem in the hobby, but what makes us female reenactors really pissed off is when guys try to excuse their behavior by saying that “it’s how it was”.  There are plenty of ways to stay in period-appropriate gender roles without being an asshole.

STOP: Mindlessly following the instructions of those around you.

START: Giving extended critical thought to why you’re doing something the way you’re doing it.

Are you doing what you’re doing, wearing what you’re wearing, or acting the way you’re acting because it’s accurate, or are you doing it because it’s easier/cheaper/faster/it’s what your unit does?  For all the mocking of farbs by hardcore reenactors that goes on in the reenacting hobby, I see those same reenactors making the same mistake that causes the farbs to be farbs – not stopping to give concerted, committed thought to why they’re doing something.

STOP: Thinking of history solely as a series of wars and conflicts.

START: Thinking about how to bring reenacting into the civilian realm.

If historians relied solely on reenactors to paint a portrait of history, future scholars would assume that history was just one big battle after another.  I do recognize that reenacting did get its start as a form of wargaming and a way of recreating historical battles, but are you going to tell me that the hobby hasn’t evolved at all in the last two hundred years?  I wish that more reenacting groups would think a bit more about how to recreate more than just military life.  Some groups definitely do this, but they are few and far between, and I’d love to see it become more common.  Groups can do period dinners, picnics, dances, parties, even treks and hunting or camping trips.  Adding in these kinds of activities not only makes the hobby more inclusive, but it also allows reenactors to gain a more nuanced understanding of the lives they portray.

STOP: Being so judgmental and fond of pointing fingers.

START: Trying to educate and help out.

I’ve had my fair share of fingers pointed at me, and I’ve pointed my finger at my fair share of other reenactors, and you know what? I don’t do it anymore.  It smacks of middle school elitism.  If you’re so bothered by something inaccurate, try to help the person see their error and fix it (and who knows, it may actually be you who were mistaken!).  I know that many farbs just simply don’t care, but at least you’ve tried to improve the hobby, rather than just talking behind yet another person’s back.

STOP: Only doing impressions that are group oriented or that you know people already do.

START: Doing impressions that you’re interested in.

Every reenactor I’ve ever met has at some point, usually in a trailing, wistful voice, told me about an impression that they’d “love to do if only someone else would do it with them”.  You know what?  Fuck that shit.  If you think an impression is cool, then do it.  If there’s one thing I’ve learned about reenacting, it’s that it’s very much a field that responds well to the “if you build it, they will come” tactic.  If you’re passionate about an impression, you’ll probably do it well, and nothing attracts reenactors to a new impression like seeing someone doing something cool and doing it well.  Want to portray a Depression-era Okie refugee?  DO IT.  Want to portray 13th century Russians?  DO IT.  If you do it well, word will spread and before you know it, you’ll have people asking if they can join you.  The flip side of this is that if you do choose to do an unusual impression, don’t get pissy when someone else thinks it’s cool and starts doing it too.  You don’t have a copyright on history, and imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.

STOP: Turning after hours at every event into a historical frat party.

START: Having more period after hours activities.

Most reenactors say that they really love how much more of a “period experience” they have after hours, and frankly, I have to laugh every time I hear it.  Almost every event I’ve been to, both public and private, turns into drinking sessions around the fire and drunken antics, ending with folks stumbling into their blankets at the end of the night.  Especially in a military setting, that’s about as far from an accurate depiction of camp life as you can get.  Not only does it create an uncomfortable environment for those who don’t or can’t drink, not only is it unsafe for that many people to be that intoxicated while being around weapons and fires, but it’s also counter to our stated goals of “experiencing history”.  I’d love to see groups start having more period activities in the evening like we used to have in my first reenacting unit – card games, small amounts of drinking, fireside discussions, repairing clothing and equipment, and for larger events, maybe even an informal dance or something similar.

So, dear readers: what would you like to see reenactors stop and start doing?

189 Comments

  1. 1. ‘Reenactor lore’ – those rules and other things that are based on unit or group traditions, but are treated as historical fact – especially by newbs, who have not yet developed a ‘filter’ for these things.

    2. Uniform or impression collectors – those folks who have NO interest in the group’s activities, and who only join a group long enough to use group resources to put together yet another full kit, which will now languish in a closet, while the collector moves on to another group.

    • 1. Yeah, reenactor lore is part of what I was getting at with my “Stop mindlessly following the instructions of those around you.” remark. I can’t imagine how much more authentic the hobby would be as a whole if individuals based their impression on their own independent research, rather than just doing whatever their unit commander tells them to do. I think that units should point members to good research resources, but let the reenactor him/herself do their own research.

      2. I really can’t understand those folks, and I know a few. I have some impressions that haven’t been used in awhile, but that’s simply because there are very few events that make use of it. I’d love to make more use of my niche impressions, which is one of the reasons I would love to see reenactors start having get-togethers outside of the context of a site-specific event.

      • Yeah ::grinning:: I smelled ‘reenactor lore’ all over your original post… Thankfully, my groups are very heavy on res CEearch, and we’re pretty liberally filled with academics – papered and not.

        An interesting adjunct we’ve found is the wannabe ancient reenactor, who is virulently anti-academic (!!!?) and just can’t seem to deal with book-larnin’. It’s a little discouraging – especially when they can’t wrap their heads around non-modern standards of ‘uniform’ and our complete lack of a printed field manual from 92 CE or manual of arms.

        ::shakes head::

        • I don’t do much early period stuff, but I’ve heard about what you speak of. It’s pretty ridiculous, and we get a similar phenomenon in 20th century reenacting. I have encountered plenty of reenactors who are just there to get out and shoot guns and could care less about their authenticity. I have no problem with people who want to be powder burners, but I feel like they’d really be so much happier in a historical airsofting group than a historical reenacting group, but they don’t want to do it because they want to feel like their hobby is “legitimate”.

      • Your comments about independent research is a thoughtful one, but perhaps not always achievable. Personally, I try my best to craft my impression around independent research. Everything about my impression is built off of what the primary sources indicate. Consequently, though much of it fits in with my unit’s standards, some of it ends up being contradictory. Unfortunately, even if I can prove that my way is more correct, (which is not to say it always is) it is often met with an awful amount of resistance. People can become set in their ways, and to see someone challenging the norm can often produce heated responses.

        I mean, just try telling a group of 50 reenactors that they have been executing the command “Make Ready” the wrong way for over 40 years.

        • If your unit isn’t interested in updating their definition of “authentic” when presented with new research, then perhaps it’s time to find a new unit.

          • That’s not as easy as it would seem. For one, my brother and I are part of the same group. He is involved with the artillery part of the group, while I am with the infantry. Leaving the group would reomve a lot of the fun of hanging out with my brother. Secondly, I like a lot of the folks in the group, which is also quite large. Size in a unit is important to me. I mean, lets face it, one small group being brigaded with a 10 other small groups that just manage to execute the drill is no more authentic than one larger group that could use some material culture improvements but at least is proficient at the drill.

            • It’s all about what is most important to you. If there are no better alternatives and there’s no way to start your own unit, then yes, I’d say that staying is the right decision. However, I also think that staying in a unit you don’t get along with is kind of counter to the idea of having an enjoyable weekend.

        • Challenging the norm always produces heated responses. However, if nobody ever speaks up, nothing ever changes.

        • Your comments on individual research are totally accurate but no, not always achievable. I have been trying to find info on the common folk of colonial Australia and keep hitting road blocks. Everyone wants to be somebody so there is always plenty of information around about the upper classes and their attire, but just try to get much info on the lower/convict classes. In my brief foray into medieval play, there were plenty of references and resources for lords and ladies and people of rank, but the commoners get overlooked. In fact when I said I wanted to play someone of servant class, I was looked at like I’d grown six heads.
          And then there’s ability, both academic and financial. In all aspects of reenactment you will have those that look immaculate and always have their depiction perfect and good on them. If they have the time, energy and resources to put into extensive research then go for it. But not everyone is that lucky and have to ‘make do’, perhaps sacrificing a touch of authenticity for keeping their family fed and healthy. The ‘garb-snarks’ as I’ve heard them called can make entering into the world of reenactment very daunting.
          Rant over.

          • Try looking for period journals of foreign visitors to Australia. Two of the best sources we have for reenacting the lower classes in colonial era Virginia are from travelers through the region. They wrote about everything they saw, where the literate locals just took it for granted that everyone knew what the poor looked like, so why bother writing about it.

      • I have tried to do a impression of a Drum Major at one of my units Civil War living history events one time, after telling them 5 times what a D.M. did and looked like etc. I came out and started a scenario with some other members. I was publicly dressed down and told to never do that again under threat of being removed from the ranks. I was no new-b I had been a faithful member for 5 years at the time but the old founding officers did not like any change to just being a private in the artillery. They also did not care to instruct people or interact with visitors ” in 1st person” so if you did they could care less and not support you. I no longer am with them 7 years as a private was enough esp. after they promoted members that were girls dressed as men and do nothing member that had only encampments under there belts.

  2. Great list! There are very few groups out there that interest me enough to join. And I love creating new impressions from scratch.

    Here’s my contribution to the list:

    STOP: Participating in public events when you have no interest in interpreting for the public. I’ve seen too many gun collectors show up to events just to sit around in costume talking about guns with their friends and completely ignore the public who stand around their camp.

    • Yes! Or, if not talking about guns, they’re sitting around talking only to eachother, and usually not about period stuff. I’m sorry, but if I wanted to sit around and make Simpsons references with friends, I can do that in the comfort of my own living room. So few groups at living history events actually make much of an effort to engage the public beyond saying something like “if you have a question, feel free to ask”.

  3. I bet that if people washed their reenacting clothes by hand (with period accurate soaps or lack thereof) and hung them to dry on a branch, they would wash them a lot less often.

    I also suspect that treatment of women might improve if the focus were broadened beyond reenacting battles. … Though I sometimes think many historians already believe that history is nothing but one battle after another, going by which books get classified as “history” and which get classified as sociology.

    • Indeed! With a few exceptions (things like undergarments), I wash all of my reenacting clothes by hand, if they get washed at all, and the hassle it entails tends to keep me from washing them all that often!

      And yes, I think that broadening the focus would indeed help the position of women in the hobby. Right now, if you’re not able to field, you’re seen as a second class citizen in the hobby, and that really needs to change. I recognize that the main draw is often the battle, but that is only the case because we have made it that way. Plus, I’d love to see units that were more accepting of allowing women to field, especially since from as far away as the public typically is, nobody can really tell and it would help to boost numbers in the field.

      • As a potential member of the general audience, I, for one would be much more interested in watching a period party, meal (and possibly getting a taste of the food), or learning the rules of a bygone game, or dance than I would watching a battle, and I imagine I’m not the only one.

        Expanding the scope of events would also expand the public interest.

        • Yes. I think that it is an erroneous assumption that the public is only interested in watching a battle. Is it a big draw? Of course. However, it doesn’t have to be the only draw, and in fact if events gave the same perceived importance to, say, demonstrations of a period craft, I think there would be a shift in the structure of events that would both make the hobby more accessible to a wider range of people and also, as you said, expand the public interest.

      • 1. I have run into furtrade reenactors that were so grundgy I didn’t want to go near them, Having grown up on a dairy farm in the 50’s, our clothes may have been old and tired looking….but we were never grundgy….I’m sure 1950’s laundering was much improved over, say 1790’s, but I’m sure I would not have wanted to walk around even then looking like a terminal case of creeping crud! I think that sort of thing leaves a poor impression on everyone. Remember, our forefathers were fashion slaves then as we are today. Most people had atleast some pride. One must also look to the popularity of soap, even in its day, now tell me where in history one should run around looking as bad as they do. Wrinkled and worn is one thing, smelly and grundgy is another!
        2. In the fur Trade, the union between a Voyageur and his Metis was as much a working and business arangement as anything…..If a woman wasn’t treated right, she would throw the man out, and find another that would. She liked to be treated right, he’de better show up with some nice jewlery, beads, pot, pans, (improvements) from time to time (as is even now) or he would be replaced…… He needed her for the most part, more than she needed him…..she usually had her tribe to fall back on…..Men were more vulnerable to survival in many ways, more than the women. White mans survival depended upon the help and skills of the Native American….We wouldn’t have survived on our own.
        So on treating women poorly…..Not as likely as one might think! I’m sure the Victorian influence may be a factor, but civilization is not always a good thing!

      • The problems I have seen is women who do not make enough of an effort to do a male impersonation .
        perhaps because the ta-tas are hard to hide or they are wearing to restictive clothing. I myself have not seen many good impressions. (my own girl child worked with a cannon crew untill she matured to much to hide it. There is no problem of women being in thr ranks because it happened in history however when they were found out they were ussally sent packing.

        • Though I think that women should be allowed in the ranks (just my personal opinion), I do think that they should make every effort to appear masculine. This means binding breasts, hiding or cutting hair, etc. However, the same goes for men, in my book – no beards, no beer guts hanging over your belt, no non-period tattoos visible. If visible authenticity is the excuse, it has to apply to both genders equally.

          • I’ve never in more than twenty years of reenactment been involved in battles, I’m a living historian and the whole military thing bores me more than I can possibly describe.

            I’ve never really encountered much mysogyny- not from men, anyway. The most dismissive people I’ve come across have been the female fighters who can be genuinely dismissive of women who explore female history.

            Washing. Linen should be spotless, it was a sigh of respectability, but I’ve got outfits older than some reenactors which have never been washed because good English wool should never be washed, and I cringe when I see the fb discussions amongst sca types about machine washing embroidery.

            Glasses, I’m short sighted, my focal length is about six inches from my nose and I’m unable to wear contacts, yet I manage perfectly well without mine on site( I stay away from fires). However I make no apologies for putting them on when I leave site in costume as I’m not safe to cross a road otherwise, and I’ve been on the receiving end of personal abuse for this from other reenactors, which I find completely unacceptable

        • YES. This is also my BIGGEST peeve. I AM one of the ones who ‘doe it right’. When I helped form my CW infantry unit, as a private, our Sgt. was a fellow I had worked under for YEARS at the local history museum, and he’d even seen me in uniform… but he had no idea it was me. He thought I was some new kid!

          Even in Soviet WW2, where I can look like a female openly, there are women who don’t make an effort. I mean, if you’re part of the military, you need to know how to act in a military manner. Women were held to similar standards of behavior and etc. as the men. I also do WW1 Womens Death Battalion (Russian) and Russian Civil War (no one does it with me yet, I am a lone ranger) and have recently joined a GERMAN jager unit who is allowing me to disguise myself (not accurate, but they say I do a good enough job that people won’t even know) so currently my hair is chopped/shaved in the ‘nazi cut’ even. But anyway.

          There are several events I will no longer go to for CW due to the lack of regulations for women on the field. It makes me sick, and frankly, pisses me off because many of these ‘chicks’ look at me in disgust, and even criticize and mock me if someone makes it known I am female. I just don’t get it. Perhaps they’re just jealous because I make the uniform look good.

    • Basically thye history I was taught in school was all battles, politics and inventions. We do need to expand that.

  4. Here’s my uh, two cents?

    1. To expand on your comment about battles…. YES a thousand times YES! Get more involved in learning how the “civilian” side of life worked in your chosen era. I’m tired of hearing comments from people about how organization X would cease to exist if it wasn’t for fighting. .Ok, yeah… that may be what gets people interested, but any group that just fights is like a stool with just one or two legs. You should almost be required to do legitimate research if you want to keep your non-profit status.

    2. STOP looking down on groups that may not strive for 100% authenticity. Some people do what they can, and some of those groups are perfect for those who may be unable/unwilling to go to the painstaking detail of hand cast pewter buttons and ensuring their fabric is properly woven.

    3. DO start trying to improve just one thing a year, be it your kit, your attitude, or your ability to educate others (ie: the public, or newer group members). I’m trying to do this, despite all the crud real life has thrown my way the past two years.

    • 1. I agree. While fighting is the big draw, it’s only that way because we’ve made it that way. Re: non-profit status – I don’t know about where you are, but of the dozen or so groups I belong to, only one is a non-profit. Most of them are just informal groups of people.

      2. In addition to what you said, I think that we should encourage people to find a group that fits their needs and preferences. People who are there to fight first and research later should be steered toward similar folks, etc, etc. There’s nothing wrong with any particular interpretation of the hobby, and I think that there would actually be more people involved if there were more “levels of participation” available.

      3. This is great advice.

  5. Modern Glasses! They are everywhere!

    • Yes. Modern glasses are something that I was sure would go away once repros became commonly available, but nope, they’re still rampant. I think that glasses are over-represented in general, and that if you truly need glasses, you really should try for contacts during events. Only if your prescription isn’t available in contacts should you be wearing period glasses. Before the 1950s, glasses were definitely a luxury item.

      • I have to wear glasses, and I know that the chances of such things existing as they do now in my chosen era (Tudor England/France) is fairly slim to none. But, I at least do my best to minimize how badly they stick out. I wish I could get contacts to work, but I’ve tried twice and had only minimal success. So, I’m stuck. Maybe one day they’ll come up with a good way to fix my eyes, but so far, no dice.

      • I can’t get out of bed without glasses, and can’t afford the correct ones. I need to see to do the activities I do, and contacts and smoke don’t work for me. I work hard demonstrating at every event I go to, and believe if you engage the public well enough, they wouldn’t notice the elephant behind the lodge. More re-enactors need to get off their butts and DO Something during public hours, or should expect to pay higher camp fees when no public comes to an event.

      • Depends–if you are portraying a specific historical character who wore glasses, then contacts are out. I do George Patton on occasion, and he most certainly wore glasses for map-reading, etc., so I’ve got my WW2-period glasses in my uniform pocket when portraying George.

        • I have no choice but to wear glassess as well. Medical reasons wont let me wear contacts. However I did find a neat way to cover it up if you like fantasy stuff. I have a steampunk outfit for those days when I am in an oddball mood and have a nice steampunk goggle made that can go over my glassess. I know steampunk is not really a historical thing but it can be quite fun!

      • I too need glasses to get about and have been told countless times that my condition makes contacts impossible. I searched for frames in reenactment suppliers, antique shops and modern retailers and wound up finding a pair of modern frames that are ‘almost’ right and the optometrist played with them a bit to make them even better. So saying, even on a tight budget there is no excuse for not at least trying for accuracy in eye wear.

        • As regards glasses, don’t overlook second-hand and antique stores. You may well find period glasses in a prescription that’s close enough to be useful.

    • There is a medical issue here. I must wear glasses, I have an issue with my eyes that make it impossible to wear contact, due to infection issues. I try to find a happy medium between metal rimmed, modern glasses and a historical shape. Sometimes there is no good answer for a problem, we all must do the best we can

      • Oh yes, medical issues are of course excused. As you said, the idea is to do as best you can – this was more directed at the folks who wear modern glasses out of laziness.

    • For those who say they can’t wear contacts, or can’t get them in their prescription, or they’re too expensive, think about checking with your optometrist/opthamologist to see if technology has moved on since you last tried. I found recently that the range of prescriptions available in lovely soft disposable contacts had increased and I could buy a pack of around 20 pairs for a pittance – wear once, throw away, no need to muck around cleaning them.

  6. Ugu~ most of my reenacting clothes are still unwashed from day one, bahaha~
    I usually only wash my chemise almost after every event though. I dont think the chemise matters much though, cause you don’t see it. *Shrug*

    • Yes, I make an exception for undergarment layers that are hidden from the public. They’re basically invisible, and they’re also the ones that are closest to the skin, so those are fine.

      Go you for never washing your clothes!

  7. Modern eyeglasses and non appropriate facial hair. The facial hair will grow back. i.e. ZZ top beard in a continental line unit.

    “Veteran” reenactors who refuse to acknowledge recent research bringing up different things.

    Differing standards for oldtimers and new members.

    I am grateful for all the research the members of my group have done and continue to do. I like doing research but it’s more on general material culture and learning practical skills. This helps as there is not a lot of research like this in my unit.

    • Indeed. This is a hobby that does require some sacrifices. If you absolutely must have your beard, then you need to choose an impression where it’s acceptable (cossacks, anyone?). If you absolutely must portray an 18th century man, then you’re going to have to shave.

      I think that you’ve hit on a good one with your mention of differing standards for veteran reenactors vs. newbies. I think that many times what would never be accepted of a new member is ignored in an oldtimer. I think that’s bullshit. If you’re going to have a standard, have a standard. Standards aren’t standards if they don’t apply to everyone equally. I think there’s an attitude that once you’ve “put in the time” in the hobby you become sort of untouchable, and I think that really scares away a lot of recruits.

      Continuing research is good, people!

      • I love the guys who choose to do German WW2 and gripe because they have to shave before an event…. If it’s that big of a deal, be a gebirgsjager or something else. I don’t have that problem myself *wink wink*

        • In that vein, nearly every Gebirgsjäger I see has a goatee or beard of some sort and you’ll even see unkempt beards. The Wehrmacht only had a simple standard for facial hair: That it was forbidden and if you had it already that it was to be well kept. So growing one in the field wasn’t allowed (of course units time and time again ignored this rule in heavy combat or for morale purposes, such as some men fighting near Leningrad) but if you showed up from leave with a mustache that was well kept, it was allowed.

          Also, there is loads of footage and pictures of clean shaven GBJ as the majority. You’d think otherwise with how it’s portrayed currently in the hobby. Of course that’s all up to unit leaders in how they want to run their units, but I’d be doing a disservice to Heer reenacting if I just sat quiet about it.

  8. While I agree that people want who only do impressions that are group friendly with a group may be a pain, I only could have gotten into re-enactment with the help of a really cool group who helped me get little bits of kit together and provided info I never would have gotten on my own. No one wants to be the only Spartacist revolutionary (an impression I’d love to do) in a crowd of 82nd airborne.

    • I’m not at all saying that groups are bad – merely that there are plenty of reenactors out there who suppress their personal desires out of a fear that, as you said, they’ll be the only one doing the impression. I have rarely ever seen someone do an impression alone and make it more than one event without attracting other interested parties. Heck, look at our 1REP group! Two years ago it was a single reenactor, and now we have what, 8 or 10 members? Marc’s WWI Russian group started out with two members and is growing steadily. Our Spanish Civil War group started out as the brainchild of one reenactor who wanted to do the impression and now has 4 active members and several more that are simply waiting for another event.

      Groups are necessary for the hobby to exist, and you’re right – you can’t really get a good start in the hobby without a group. However, I think that many reenactors get too comfortable and are afraid to stray away from the group dynamic, even once they’re experienced enough to strike out on their own.

      • I’m so glad that you wrote this in public for everyone to read! Pat on the back to you for not being afraid so sound a little “bitchy”. ;-)

        I just wanted to say one thing… If you feel you want to join a group, I absolutely applaud your good sense (after all, most events that I’ve found will not allow you to camp if you’re not a part of a group)… But PLEASE consider RESEARCHING the group you intend to join before you write out that membership dues check! I think far too many reenactors end up “falling” into a group instead of choosing their group.

        I reenacted all by myself for four years before I finally found the group that I’m honored to call family for my third year (please believe me when I say that I went through a few other groups before finding this wonderful gaggle of geese!) I’ve aligned myself with a civilian unit, because it fit in best with the impression that I wanted to portray (which is Laura Matilda Towne) and they were excited that I wanted to find my own happiness and do my own research… BUT they are also never stingy with information! What one of us knows, we all have the means to know.

        So… At the risk of babbling… It’s not only important to research your history, but it’s VERY important to research your group. It should be a long-term relationship that you’re entering into… So, do your homework. I promise it’ll pay off in the end. :-D

        • Yep. I would add in that it’s good to evaluate group stability. In my sixteen years in the hobby, I’ve been in way too many groups that only lasted a few years due to internal conflicts and drama. If you smell drama at all, stay far, far away!

  9. I would definitely love it if more groups concentrated on/allowed for civilian impressions. What’s discouraged me from getting involved is that, where I live (afaict), it’s all military impressions, female relations of the soldiers who are mainly hanging out, and shopkeepers. I was thinking about joining the BAR, but I’m not entirely sure how that would work with juried events like the Struggle for Liberty, where they told me I couldn’t go in costume unless I was part of a group that had already been judged. I’m kind of inclined toward getting my talented mother to be a miniaturist or potter so we can go to events as civilians without feeling out-of-place as unattached period women.

    • There are a few options for “unattached” women trying to gain entrance to 18thC events that I can think of. For one, I’d recommend trying to find a military group to attach yourself to as a campfollower. You’ll probably get some weird reactions for wanting to join as a single woman, but believe it or not, it’s far more historically accurate! Once you have a group, it should be much easier to attend events. Your second option is to create your own unit of women who have a group impression. Laundresses seems to be a popular one. Then, once you have your unit, submit them to juried events.

      Going as an unattached period woman may feel awkward, but that’s only because many male reenactors bring in a very modern mindset when it comes to unattached women – that they’re weird (which is complete BS). In reality, most campfollowers were refugees, widows, and other unattached women, so you would in fact be far more historically accurate as such!

      • That’s very encouraging! I think maybe I’ll sign up with the 2nd regiment Albany County militia, the local group – the times I’ve seen them, the women don’t seem to be doing much, and the pictures on their website hardly ever show them (which makes me think they don’t get as involved), but it would probably be a good way to find women who *do* want to do more and maybe have more non-military events.

        To be honest, I’m going to feel awkward no matter what I do (shyness), so I should just bite the bullet and join up.

        • Cassidy – Is Rev War your only interest? We do Iron Age living history and as a result our group is has a majority of women doing LOTS of stuff. http://www.celticclans.org

          • I wouldn’t say my sole interest is in Rev War – to be honest, my main interests are not actually during wars, but out of the wars available I think Rev War is my first preference? (Especially as there’s a lot of scope for it around here.) I did see a link to your group on a message board – the one for the living history podcast – and it looks amazing, but I think the period is just not for me. I definitely need to visit one of your public demonstrations this year, though!

        • Holy cow, I’m IN the 2nd Albany! Good people and plenty of very active distaff members. The annual meeting is January 28, you will be very welcome.

      • Not to shamelessly plug, but the 33rd Regiment has a very strong and rigorous contingent of campfollowers, equal toor exceeding that of the soldiers of the same. Interestingly, a number of our women are single or participate without their significant others. The women are usually busier interpreting than the men, and are renowned for the elaborate officer’s meals prepared at the Under the Redcoat event using only 18th century ingredients and techniques. It’s truly a feat to witness!

        Cheers!
        -McGee

    • In the NWTA we’ve developed a civilian area that is set up as the ‘town’ where artisans can display their talent in the making of period goods and women can demonstrate spinning, bobbin lace etc. along with that we can teach about how the children were educated, talk about the clothing they wore etc. It opens the hobby to those not interested in the military and therefore expanding the membership.
      By the way we are all inspected about every five years to maintain the level of authenticity although we’re still learning even after more than 35 years in the hobby it is an on-going process.
      those who worry about juried events shouldn’t worry if they have primary documentation for the appropriate clothing for their impression it should not cause a problem.

  10. Assuming that an “unattached” woman is just there to get her “Mrs.” degree. Some of us have a genuine interest in history, some of us even have a significant interest in guns, etc.

    Also, taking excitement in a newbie as a threat to you or your organization and how things have “always been done.” Embrace that excitement, revel in it, and see what it does for your group!

    As someone who’s struggled as that “unattached” woman (and dressing as a man which also has its own nightmarish connotations in some worlds), it needs to be realized that we’re there for the history. If I wasn’t there for the history I wouldn’t be taking on the portrayal that I do!

    Also- be willing to learn from others!! Even though you’ve been in the hobby for X number of years, the history education changes regularly, and you should be willing to learn from people who are reading new things, and adjust your impression accordingly. Its ok to have a differing opinion about X,y,z,1 from person A if you have documentation, but if its something that someone’s always told you, and person A has documentation stating different, seriously think about it, and maybe even engage in some good discussions.

    Also, remembering that Reenacting is an aging hobby, and encouraging youth to get involved is probably one of the biggest things we all can do in order to still do this 20 years from now. Let your passion for your time period and for history show, and you’ll influence someone else to join in when they can as well!

    • In addition to the above comment I’d say if there is a question about something someone has told you is authentic, yes, discuss it but it is more important to do your own research. using others is a help there is so much to learn and each of us have their area of focus. I’ve been reenacting since 1975 first focusing on the role of women and now more into clothing construction and fabric. this year i went to the national archives in London to see the fabric swatches in the Foundling Hospital Billet books. what an education that was! It has put me in quite a quandary about advising on printed fabrics because they were not what I expected in size and in some part in color. I knew there would be a lot of blue but more than that purple was the color found So you see no matter how many years you’ve been active in the hobby you never know when you research what may turn up and how many times you may have to change your opinion,,,,be ready for it!

  11. For those dealing with the public, it also would not hurt to learn interpretation in addition to any knowledge you are trying to share. There are some classes online (including a free intro class) at http://eppley.org/elearning/interpretation-1. The National Association for Interpretation (http://www.interpnet.com/) offers a Certified Interpretive Guide Program that is excellent. The schedule for upcoming classes is at http://www.interpnet.com/certification/cert_calendar.shtml. NAIs national conference will be in Hampton VA this November.

    Lastly, there are plenty of good books on interpretation – Interpreting our Heritage by Freeman Tilden (THE main book for interpreters), Personal Interpretation by Lisa Brochu and Tim Merriman, and The Gifts of Interpretation: Fifteen Guiding Principles for Interpreting Nature and Culture by Larry Beck and Ted Cable (not yet on Amazon, but available through the NAI bookstore at http://www.naimembers.com/store/acatalog/books.html

    • Yep. There are way too many reenactors out there whose idea of “interpreting” is sitting around the fire, chatting with friends while ignoring the public walking by.

      • Beyond that, interpretation is more than just sharing data. It’s about connecting the audience with the resource and hopefully making them care about it.

        • Yes. I think many reenactors shy away from interpretation because they associate it with corny, 1st person stuff. However, there’s plenty of ways to be “in-character” and have it feel natural, and ways to connect with the audience without resorting to a 1st person impression.

    • I absolutely agree. One thing that’s almost as bad as reenactors who ignore the public are the ones that talk AT the public without actually interpreting to them. Interpretation requires interaction and the ability to read and understand your audience. As living historians we sometimes get caught up in the minutiae of our particular period and we lose sight of the “big picture” and this can sometimes turn off the public. Not everyone wants a 20 minute discussion on the operation of a flintlock, although there are always exceptions. As interpreters we need to be able to recognize when we have the audience and when we’ve lost them and let their interests help guide the discussion. Every reenactor interested in interpretation should have a copy of Tilden at the very least.

  12. STOP: Talking about *your* personal experiences.
    START: Talking about *their* experiences.

    One of my biggest pet peeves about reenactors is that they love to talk about their hobby instead of history. Describing the clothing you have on and its purpose is one thing. Talking about how long it takes you to dress yourself and get your hair up (because in reality it is very short, blah blah blah) is another. It’s a matter of context. Our goal is to educate the public about the elements of whatever time period and culture we are portraying and how it affected people’s daily lives. Our goal is not to describe how we “do” the hobby (unless it is explicitly asked, of course) in a modern context. It kind of ruins any chances of making history come alive, and makes us look like a bunch of crazy people who just like dressing funny on the weekends.

  13. Does this mean I have to put tar in my hair when I do Tall Ships Festivals?

    • Hahaha. Only if you want to! Believe me, as someone who was a tall ship sailor for seven years and who has racked up several thousand miles on them, I’m very familiar with the task of getting it off your clothes, skin, and hair!

  14. Stop: Following the exact latest fashion trend, ie, what the latest published book is about, right down to the colour choices the authors used to recreate their garments.
    Conversly, stop copying what the next lady in your group is wearing…

    Start doing your own research and finding your own wardrobe…everyone wearing the exact same outfit is boring when you’re portraying a civi, you may as well all be in uniform.

    • Yes! Not only that, but also pay attention to what the other people in your group wear, and try to wear something a bit different. As you said, far too many civilian groups are far more uniform than they would have been.

  15. Susan 30 year re-enactor

    Do you re-enact being a sailor because use too much bad language?? THAT negates anything else you have to say, IMHO.

    And frankly, WHO died and left YOU in charge?
    Don’t like my comments? Tough.

    • I’m sorry that my language bothers you, but I write the way I speak. And yes, actually, I did used to be a sailor. I was a professional tall ship sailor for seven years. ;)

      I never said that my opinions were gospel, merely that these were things that I personally wish reenactors would do more/less of.

      All comments are welcome.

    • People didn’t swear in period. They said things like “rats” and “confound it.”

      And occasionally whore, turd, zounds, god’s blood, pig farker, and cunt. Though back then, it was “ye cuntte,” because they were into adding extra letters to things to make themselves look more intelligent.

      Except for the Romans, like Catullus, who in his 97th poem writes:

      “So help me god, I can’t tell the difference
      whether I sniff at Aemilius’ mouth or at his ass.
      The one is not cleaner and the other not dirtier.
      Actually the asshole may be cleaner and nicer in the end,
      at least it has no teeth, the mouth has long fang ones,
      with the gums of an old manure-loaded shit wagon,
      and a foul odor which the pissing cunt
      of a mule in heat is often likely to have. “

  16. Great post! I only tried re-enacting (WWII) in a group setting a few times, but if more of your points were taken I think I would have actually made an effort to join a group. Especially the “period frat party” bit. I’m not a partier, so would have really enjoyed more excuse to delve into the time period instead of either a) going to bed early or b) partying loudly into all hours of the morning.
    I also think if there were more opportunities to be a civilian that I would be much more interested, as I am a woman.

    • I think that I would be far more involved with the hobby (not that I’m not already, but…) if, as you said, I didn’t have to choose between going to bed early and sitting around a bunch of drunk people. Like you, I’m not a partier and my boyfriend (who is also a reenactor) is a recovering alcoholic. I’d love for after-hour parties to be the exception rather than the norm.

  17. We have done a fall food preservation event at Hartwell Tavern the past two falls, and they have been huge successes. Many MANY people have come for it, and the park rangers have been beyond pleased!

    We have market stalls that go up, accuracy guidelines for those choosing to participate, and some hands on for visiting kids, and a wonderful woman who has researched food, and loves to cook for a crowd, who feeds us accurately!

    Some of the guys help with the food, and some do drilling demos, since New England towns had muster days! Something for everyone, yet military is not the focus.

    But…to be accurate, the body linens should be washed frequently. Records show that people had many shifts and shirts, often a dozen, so that suggests weekly or biweekly laundry, one or two wearings per shirt. Outer wear probably got brushed, as heavily constructed garments are harder to wash properly, and still look good. Washing the inner layers frequently would keep the outer garments in better shape. But wool and linen outer wear should be aired out and brushed after a wearing! To make it look right, it needs to be treated as they would have!

    • Yes, if you had the money you have several shifts or shirts but reading the lists of clothing lost in the Fire in Brandon, Suffolk, England in 1789 from John Styles book ‘Dress of the People’ we see a slightly different picture.
      The postmaster who had five children lost 18 shifts so presuming they were each wearing one that is 23 about 3 each but the poorer mantuamaker and the servant each lost only one; other servants did lose 4 and 9. The blacksmith and the cordwainer each lost 9, they had children but we don’t know how many.
      From this the number of pieces of underwear varied but then you have to also put it in the context of how much did each person carry with them into the camp situation, I doubt very much if the women when they left their homes to live alongside the soldiers in camp hauled along their entire wardrobe.

  18. Women: Stop cross-dressing. It fools no one, confuses the public and has no historic basis; aside from a few confused women who wished to prove something by sneaking into a military unit.

    • Dudley – So, should we ban pretty much anyone over 45 or over 160lbs from the field as well?

    • I’ve never actually encountered people confused at the presence of women on the field. No, they’re usually not “fooling” anyone, but the audience seems perfectly capable of understanding that the women are portraying men.

    • Funny, I’ve been a soldier for over 20 years, and still take pride that a lot of new folks and public often mistake me for a man, until they learn my name isn’t really James. As a matter of fact, I’ve shocked people sometimes by showing up as my “sister.” People have started to think of my female impression as cross-dressing.
      That said, I wish to point out the DOCUMENTED presence of a number of women in the ranks, including in the Confederate artillery, some carrying rank.I style myself off of Jane Perkins, whose unit obviously knew she was female, since she wore her long braid coiled up under her kepi. Do some research.

      • The history channel had a documentary recently called, ” Full Metal Corset.”. It was about several women who went to war during the Civil War( is that the War of Northern Agression?). It was very interesting and worth looking for.

    • YES!! And units STOP allowing these girls,lady’s etc. to give orders or have rank, if you sound like a girl you are one and I know of no women ever having rank other than private or civilian .

      • Rich – I’m guessing that you missed the whole section on misogyny in this post?

      • As mentioned, you might want to do some research. Several soldiering women carried rank, and not always with their gender unknown. You might want to check out some names like “Michigan” Bridget Divers/Danvers, or Belle Reynolds. Of course, there were also some who were dismissed when their gender became known, such as the 1st Sgt in the 10th New York Heavy Artillery.
        Of course, if you were good at being a man, no one found out, so we don’t know about those individuals. Rosetta Wakeman is noted in that she went to her grave (camp disease) without being detected as a woman. We know her by her letters home. I’ve heard the argument of “Okay, so there were women, but they were harridans, not REAL women.” (Yes, that’s an exact quote.) I guess, by definition, Real Women(tm) are those who can’t pass. Hmm, I’ve known some men who were too pretty to pass as Real Men…that’s a hard row to hoe, as well.
        I merely portray the person I might have been in another time period. I’ve been breaking the gender barrier for well over 30 years, in my mundane life as well. Fortunately, in my English Civil War group, I don’t have to disguise my gender, as a number of women were known to have put on uniform and fought for the Royalist cause.

  19. As a Viking/Saxon reenactor I have had many discussions over the subject of women on the field. Even though historical evidence shows some women were warriors during the dark ages, many men (and women) still see it as not acceptable for a woman to take to the field AS a woman. On the field I am a warrior first and a woman 2nd, and very proud of the fact.

    • Freydis – would you care to write about your experiences for this blog? I’m putting together a post series in which female reenactors talk about the experience of being a woman in this hobby. Would you be interested?

    • Awesome Freydis! I also do Viking reenactment, and while I *usually* portray an upper class woman and textile worker, I have been known to put on men’s clothes and fight alongside the men. Now, while fighting I decided to portray a woman who was pretty much known to be a woman and just borrowing clothes, so everything’s a little big on me, but the audience at our fights usually needs to be told I’m a girl. (I wear my very long hair braided and stuffed into a hat under my helm.) The only real “women shouldn’t fight” attitude I have yet run into was when a local journalist wrote an article about it in which he was very worried I was going to be broken and was really hoping I would be too busy cooking to fight. As if.

      Freydis, have you ever heard of the 11th C. woman buried in Finland with TWO swords? Look her up.

      I do have to agree with wanting more to do in evenings than just party. I also wish the menfolk themselves in my group would do more than fight and train. Oh well. Change comes slow.

    • Wylden Freeborne

      http://www.tor.com/blogs/2014/09/female-viking-warriors-proof-swords

      First, I want to say that many folks in the folklore community have posited that women and third gender people have always played a more prominent and equal role in the society of our ancestors than the christian story allows. Second, new studies are finding it. We honor our history with an uncut lineage of strength through support not rules and dogmatic policing. Eff those dudes. Fight on sister!

  20. Yes and yes to everything about doing your own research and thinking critically instead of following the masses. As a lifelong reenactor–things have changed a ton in the realm of what we know/believe to be authentic/correct, and it’s mostly due to people scrapping what they were told and venturing out to discover the period on their own.

    I do take a bit of disagreement in the case of “getting dirty,” however–I so often see the extreme of this that I feel the need to backpedal a bit. Think about it–clothes were an investment, and not easily replaced. You would mend them when they tore. You would brush off the mud when it dried to keep it from wearing the fabric unevenly. You would wash your linens or have them washed frequently enough to avoid breakdown of the fibres from dirt. Yes, our clothes should certainly show some wear. But they needn’t look like scraps, either–unless it makes sense for your impression. I *hate* the assumption that a campfollower would by default look like trash–when many period prints show well-kempt, if certainly not well-dressed, women.

    Do people really still encounter misogyny at the hands of their fellow reenactors? From male spectators, yes, all the time–but I’ve honestly not been treated with anything but respect by my compatriots in a long time. Seriously–if you’re encountering this kind of degredation at the hands of the people who are supposed to be friends and fellow hobbyists…shoot dang, that’s not good! I wonder if it’s a regional/time period difference, or I’ve just been lucky, or if I’ve just pushed it so often no one’s saying anything anymore :P.

    • 1. Yes. That’s why I’m so glad that the progressive movement is becoming bigger in the hobby. When I meet someone who talks about how they’ve been reenacting for 30 years, more often than not their kit looks like they’re still working off of 30 year old research.

      2. Like I said in the post, it’s not about being filthy, it’s about looking appropriate for your impression. I know a lot of WWI reenactors whose uniforms have not a spot of mud on them. Not good! I intentionally left my Vietnam War correspondent’s jackets out hanging from a tree branch for a month in order to get some wear and tear on it. As for campfollowers, it’s up to the individual and who they’re trying to portray, but I do see an awful lot of completely spotless clothing at events. It’s getting better, but there’s still a lot of exceptionally clean clothing.

      3. It’s more common in later periods than earlier periods, especially in 20th century eras. It drives me nuts because WWII is my favourite era to reenact, but it’s also one of the worst when it comes to being treated like a second class citizen.

      This post is intentionally non-period-specific, so some things I wrote are more applicable to certain eras than others.

      • About #2–most definitely–it’s just a balance. And so often I see folks with “I haven’t touched this gown since I made it five years ago” brags…and it doesn’t fit an accurate portrayal for what they claim they’re doing at all. I think this in a lot of ways comes back to your original point on research–and researching what’s right for YOU. Just one silly example, but for men at arms–when was your uniform issued? Recently to your time of portrayal or six months of hard marches ago? Are you garrisoned or on campaign? That informs what it should look like, how much wear it should show. You have to know your persona before you can have a clue what’s correct to wear or do, which means thinking critically :) Even when it comes to dirt.

        You’ve totally given me an idea for an article for my org’s publication, btw :)

        And #3–I am so sorry! I had no idea. Well, keep up the good fight :) I sure hope they come around eventually.

  21. You don’t like partying? Move back to Cuba, Comrade!

  22. I just wanted to say I have been what some call a living historian for most of my life. I am a descendant of an earl and of a family line that was thought to be extinct so I got into this to help rebuild my family but to also have fun. By law I have a Lady title as I am the 23rd lady of the Clan MacLeod of Assynt, what is left of it. So I usually go by the name Lady Alice of Ardvreck, Ardvreck being my families original castle. Most of my work is based on the black pestilence though, 1348-1350. Unlike most people I see that prefer the court clothing which I cannot stand because it is so uncomfortable I chose to be a low-middle class apothicary. A female apothicary is extremely rare. I have had my share of mistreatment especially with the witch issue being an apothicary. Most don’t seem to realize court stuff is all good but without everyone else there would be no court. Women ended up doing a lot of the mens jobs after the pestilence, or black death because it killed off mostly males. I don’t expect everyone to be 100% accurate. I think that is next to improbable anyhow as you said most have sparkling clean clothing and wear modern high heels… Whats with that!! When I am not doing the black pestilence era I am rebuilding my family line from 1570 onwards. It is amazing how comfortable “Normal” clothing of that era really is. War is the most common theme in all of these reinactments. Yes war was very common especially in the highlands of the 13th century onward as family fought family but it was not always war. I like to go out on walks in my era clothing, sometimes go riding if I get the chance. It’s not about sword fights and mass destruction. I do have a claymore sword. Scottish women did have a sword for protection and did know how to use it but you wont see women in skimpy armor like xena. That was actually illegal. Joan of Arc was killed for wearing armor, ie mens clothing. I am not saying it has to be all accurate. Dad says there is no point in living if you dont have any fun. I do admit living history stuff, which is not like a ren faire, can get very strict but that is because when we are working we are telling a story based on what really happened. Mind you I don’t know if anyone really knows the full truth about the past. But ya as a female apothicary I have seen my share of bad people in the hobby.

  23. As an historical reenactor I thank you for your post. You said many things that needed saying. I was introduced to reenacting as a hobby by my husband about 6 years ago. My first experiences with the group he then belonged to were so terrible, I considered never reenacting again—until I learned that not all groups were full of men who were the monumental jerks that some of the Harmon’s Company of Snowshoemen were!
    (We are happily ensconced in a new group of wonderful and caring men and women).
    And oh, the women….One group, the so-called ‘Ladies of Refined Taste’ take nastiness to an art form. Not only are they NOT ladies, and NOT refined, they are the personification of ‘mean girls’ and “middle school elitism”!

    Happily, they too are the vast minority, and a sad joke among most serious reenactors.

    We have been fortunate to make many wonderful friends and have many terrific experiences within the reenacting community. The ‘bad apples’ must be of no consequence…

    • I know many women who would echo your sentiment regarding some of the men and women in this hobby. It often feels like when we’re not dodging misogynistic men, we’re dodging drama-ridden women who, as you said, take nastiness and pettiness to an art form. When I meet women like that, I can understand why some units don’t allow women!

  24. If you are in an infantry unit, try to have at least a concept of what military tactics were in the time period you portray. Learn the drill. Take up your musket during the off season and LEARN THE DRILL!

    I also believe that there is a difference between worn in clothing and dirty, tatty, nasty unwashed clothes. If you portray a soldier, realize that, unless you have been in the field for weeks under constant combat conditions, you would be expected to keep your uniform and gear in as close to immaculate condition as possible. I understand what that means in a field environment, but I have seen too many chaps in garrison who are filthy, and that would have been unacceptable in most situations.

    Oh, and learn the drill!

    • Yes, learning proper drill is extremely important!

      As for the cleanliness of clothing, it varies from situation to situation and from period to period. Since I have only recently gotten into anything pre-20th century, most of that sentiment was directed at the WWII crowd.

  25. It’s interesting to hear all the comments. They do seem to be centered around war and battle.

    As a newer 18th c reenactor (3 years now), on the west coast, we don’t see much war or battle reenactments out here. At least for my time period. The only battle ones are for SCA, pirates, civil war, and WWII that I’ve found. Which means that my little group of georgian/regency reenactors have been coined a “historical social group” because we do not “reenact” a specific war or battle. That also means that we have smaller group activities, we focus on the history, and we don’t get much interaction from the public other than the occasional person asking if we are in a play. Our personas are based off of people in history but not necessarily a specific person.

    Which leads me to a question. If it is not a specific battle or person or event in history that you are recreating, can it really be called reenacting?

    Also, the washing the clothes bit. I would have to say that it would depend on the type of clothing and the stature of the person you are portraying. The aristocrats would never step out of the house in dirty clothing. But the peasant class as well as middle class rarely wore clean clothing. Other than under garments, of course. And then there’s the difference between French, British, American, etc… Obviously, the clothing should always be hand washed and line dried, but do it according to your persona.

    Now, my two cents….

    STOP: showing visible tattoos or piercings that cannot be justified by the persona you are creating. And that means, if you are portraying someone who has lived among the savages or are a savage, make it historically accurate piercing/tattoo. And don’t come to an event with unnatural colored hair. Unless you are portraying a french person with a pink wig. It just makes the rest of the people in your group who are trying to take it seriously, look shabby to the public.

    • If it is not a specific battle or person or event in history that you are recreating, can it really be called reenacting?

      No. Most people these days are distinguishing reenactment from living history precisely on those criteria. If it’s not specific enough to reenact the actual events it’s living history.

  26. Another thing that we should be willing to take on is being politically incorrect. When I was a reenactor at Sutter’s Fort, my “busband” and I would have very loud, nasty fights, occasionally get physical with each other, etc. One of our gigs for the night program was a nasty argument about his taking me to California, which culminated with me chucking a dish at him, which shattered against a wall. But if anyone mentioned that awful word “divorce,” we would become shocked and ask them what kind of world that would lead to, with people divorcing each other willy-nilly? Our intent was to portray life as it was, and make people think. We actually finally retired the characters because they took too much emotional toll on us. Another reenactor I knew portrayed a subservient slave. People often reproached him for this, and he commented that for most slaves, that demeanor was a matter of survival, and people needed to deal with it, because “History isn’t pretty.” All of us who have done politically incorrect impressions have toned them down from reality, considerably, because we want to educate people, not alienate them. But we still need to portray the not-pretty parts.

    • I admit being put in chains and a cage for the witch re enactments can be rather daunting but its necessary too. In a crowd when we begin I try my best to last as long as I can but in the end the Apothicary especially a female one is the first to be accused of witchcraft. After all we do make potions and the likes. It’s a part of history most do not like but like you said history was not pretty. It had its dark side. If we do not educate the public on these things are we not doomed to repeat it again some day? Hundreds of thousands died in those trials, often because someone didn’t like them and accused them of being a witch or they didn’t do what they were told. When the pestilence was spreading many got accused of “Necromancy” as well and some even turned to “Necromancers” to bring back their loved ones. I know its all myth but remember it was a very religious era. Even making a prayer at a well could get you killed. The movie Black Death was a pretty good portrayal of that actually.

  27. Very good blog post; I couldn’t agree more.

    We certainly need more civilian portrayals. For me they are far more interesting and rewarding than military ones. (http://www.celticclans.org/re-livinghistory/?p=460)

    Additionally, I think those of us who do public demonstrations need to get out from behind the rope-line and attend some reenactments a MoP. Stephen and Alena of the Living History Podcast did this (http://livinghistorypodcast.com/?p=286) and I followed off of their lead too (http://www.celticclans.org/re-livinghistory/?p=684). What we discovered about the events we attended was very eye opening.

    I agree completely about the “after hours” party, too many go too far. Although the Celts were well known for their drunken parties they did other things too and that was the impetus for additional research. Music, songs, stories, and games filled their time and now they’re filling our “after hours” too.

  28. you mention not washing uniforms I have actually washed mine
    several times but my group also does a lot of parades.
    in your eye is it good or bad to have a clean up uniform for a parade?
    we even polish our brass for them haha. I portray a union soldier.(civil war)
    love this post by the way.

    • It’s all about being appropriate for your portrayal. If you’re in a parade, you should of course be clean. If you’re portraying someone who has been in the field for weeks, you probably shouldn’t be.

  29. My non-reenactor (simply cuz its a 4 hour drive to the nearest reenactment group that is Civil War and not even in my range of interests) two cents is that established groups should open themselves up to ‘adopting’ the lone reenactor who, due to to distance/cost/time required to travel to a group’s location, cannot be a regular participant. For example, I live in the back of beyond in rural Oklahoma, USA. My interest is in Napoleonic reenacting. People round about these parts haven’t ever heard of Napoleon or Wellington. An item very high on my bucket list is to participate with a cavalry unit at a Waterloo event. I get to Europe about once every 3-4 years and have yet to find a group willing to work something out, even though they say that I look like a better rider than most of their members. Its breaking my heart to think that I won’t be able to take the field at Waterloo 2015.

    • That’s too bad you haven’t found anyone willing to work with your circumstances! One thing to keep in mind–membership itself might be required to participate in events, simply because of legal red tape. Many organizations carry insurance that will only cover them if there’s a situation with members, so they’re very careful to only permit members to field. But–that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be able to be a member who attends only an event or two a year! I hope you find a group willing to let you participate at the level you can! (And if driving to the eastern Midwest–Illinois/Indiana–is an option and you’re interested in Rev War, look my group up!)

  30. Stop doing elite unit impressions if you’re fat and over 40 unless you’re portraying Herrman Goering, it’s silly and a disservice to the veterans who served in the real units. If you’re still reenacting after 40 pick a unit or impression that would fit that age group. Please try to watch your weight it’s the healthy thing to do, and you don’t want those expensive uniforms to shrink in the closet!

    • If you’re referring to German WWII, there were quite a few late war replacements who were at 35-45 y/o serving as grenadiers as well as kanoniers, etc… mostly in Volksgrenadier units since those were on the rise near the end of the war. Even the middle-aged weren’t spared the horrors of war. You had WWI vets thrown into the mix as Landsers and of course Volksturm.

  31. I have to say that I have totally enjoyed this discourse. I find history fascinating and love going to an event with reenactors. We run an antique business and dress in period clothing for our events, trying to keep in touch with the time period of our house for the most part. There is nothing I like better than when someone more knowledgeable than me offers a suggestion for a change in my dress, even if it is a slight variable on what I am already doing. We don’t have the funds to go out and buy a new outfit for each event, and we make the clothing that we wear, giving us a more worn look. As dealers in primitives as well as early country antiques, it works for our business, but I feel so much better about what we are doing after reading this and all the comments. THANK YOU!

  32. I do a lot of interpretation which leaves room for some inconsistencies which I often explain to the public.When re enacting however one should strive for detail and accuracy , hence the meaning of “re enactment”! As stated above there are times when medical and/or financial reasons dictate one to be a bit farby now and then . Instead of chiding those individuals with finger pointing or nasty comments we should look for ways to help them around these obstacles with positive suggestions. More re en-actors makes for a better experience for all !

  33. Great article! I am now in my 18th year as a Civil War re-enactor. May I add some thoughts/comments of my own?

    1. I agree that one should feel free to develop a “different” impression as long as it can be documented. When I first began re-enacting, I portrayed a war correspondent. I researched news reporting of the time and spent my first few years as a reporter. Spectators were drawn to me because I was doing something different, something that they had never considered or heard of. I later joined a medical unit. We can recreate an war-era field hospital. I still, however, portray a civilian, a civilian contract surgeon. This still creates interest and education for the spectator.

    2. Although we do after-the-battle scenarios where we recreate surgery, we also display our medical equipment and explain it to the public. We have even, on occasion, made hospital fare — beef tea, calves’ foot jelly, farina pudding, blackberry cordial — from period recipes and offered it to spectators so that they could understand more about the treatment of the sick and wounded. This went over very, very well.

    3. Treating women poorly and then claiming it was due to the time period shows a great deal of historical research is needed by those people. In the Victorian era, upper- and middle-class women were treated very well. And the women who entered camps and hospitals — officers’ wives, Sanitary Commission agents, Sanitary Comission or independent nurses, nursing nuns, and so on — were all held in high esteem. I’ve even read, and, unfortunately, I don’t have the book near me to give references, two women historians who believe that many of the women who dressed as men and enlisted were discovered by their comrades in arms, but these men kept the secret because they respected these female compatriots and their abilities.

    4. I have a peeve about “hard-core” re-enactors. I’ve met some who will spend the weekend sleeping without a tent, eating nothing but hardtack and salt pork, and claim that they are VERY authentic. However, they will not remove their caps when entering a building — sometimes not even in a church during Sunday morning services, they will not touch their caps when passing a lady, they will not move off the sidewalk/path to let a lady pass, they will attend a dance with haversack, cartridge box, etc. even though those items were not part of a dress uniform. If one projects oneself as being truly authentic, then, I believe, one must research the customs, beliefs, and ideals of the time. One can urinate on one’s buttons to get the correct patina, but that doesn’t impress me as much as one who has mid-19th century Victorian-American manners.

    Sorry for such a long-winded post!

  34. I have been reenacting/ doing living history since I was three weeks old. I literally grew up in this with both parents reenacting, and I will freely admit that I’m still learning. I’m learning all the time- out at events, at home with my research and projects, and even in school. We never stop learning about history even when it’s literally been with us all our live.

    The after-hours partying is a pain in my ass because even if I wanted to, participation on my part isn’t legal, not to mention when I do decide to go to bed, I’m kept up for hours by the too loud singing and idiocy coming from other camps (mine is kind of known for having people go to bed early). It makes me feel a lot better, though, that recently I joined 2 civilian groups in my area for two different time periods, our primary focus being dancing. We have classes every Friday and attend period balls all around the area, not to mention setting up at local reenactments and historical houses and things. We do demos and hold our own soirees. It’s a fun time. Not to say there aren’t great parties at reenactments (the evening dance at Mississinewa Indiana and the Crab feast at Ft. McHenry are examples) but they’re kinda few and far between.

    As a seamstress who is quite proud of her work (rightfully or not), nost of which is hand done, I don’t like to see it get dirty and be left dirty. Granted I have yet to make anything for an impression in which that would be acceptable, but since I don’t have the funds or time to make a new dress every year, I take exceedingly good care of mine, carefully washing every item after events before I put them away for the next events.

    If you want to be a woman and be on the field- I say more power to you. We have a few women on the field in our unit, one of them is a very good friend, but I personally don’t have an interest in that. I think that it’s a horribly closed minded and wierd idea that women can’t be on the field, whether the public recognises them as such or not. We’re all in this becasue we want to be, not becasue we have to be, so at least give us the respect to make our own choices in impressions- easy or hard, female or male.

    Brilliant blog, by the way. This needed to be said, and you did it well.

  35. For those that are say they *have* to wear glasses:

    http://angloscandinavianchronicle.com/2011/07/18/spex-the-first/

    And

    http://angloscandinavianchronicle.com/2011/07/20/spex-the-second/

    Personally, I’ve not made up my mind on the issue as far as my group is concerned. Though I will give our members credit, most have voluntarily chosen not to wear glasses when demonstrating in front of the public. Although I do wear contacts to events, when I was unable to (I ran out) I wore no sight correction for 48+ hours and managed.

  36. I have been considering laser eye surgery to fix my eye problem but money has been very tight. I live on a grant and I am petrified to spend any of the money on myself. It took me 5 years of waiting and meetings before I even got my grant.

  37. Three cheers! Huzzah Huzzah Huzzah for a lovely conversation with very little nastiness! Well said and well responded to. I’ve no idea how I came across this little piece of writing, but have found it a pleasure.

    I’ll share a short little funny episode when reenacting accidentally collided with “real life.” My daughter was a tot and my good mother was home taking care of her while I was a way earning a paycheck. Ahhh my darling dear took her nap like a good girl and my dearest mother decided to do her daughter a good turn and washed all those smelly dirty clothes. How can one be angry at the good deed of a fine and dear mother?? Grrrr. it took a few years to gather back the rightful patina but it was accomplished.

    Now that said I am NOT a fan of fake patina! I hate to hear people talk about how they left a perfectly good frock coat outside for two weeks or they did this or that to age a perfectly good piece.

    Anyhoo, nice article. I’ll look forward to seeing more in the future.
    Mad Anne/Suzanne

  38. 1. This could be a corollary to the “Using historical misogyny as an excuse for modern day misogyny” point: Stop trying to push the general 18th-century attitudes, values, and socioeconomic classes on 21st-century modern people. In front of the public, that’s fine, but when you’re in your groups amongst yourselves, it’s very boorish. Just because you wear the gold lace, scarlet sash and epaulette of a Lieutenant doesn’t mean the rest of us are going to stand for being treated like your gutter-born servant bootlickers. It will create bad feelings and soon you will find yourself standing on the field by yourself with no soldiers.
    2. Stop using the hobby and your fellow reenactors for your own self-aggrandizement. We all use the hobby as a form of escape from the modern world, but if your modern works sucks, work to improve it. Just because you wear the gold lace, scarlet sash and epaulette of a Lieutenant doesn’t mean the rest of us are going to be stepped on by you, just to make yourself feel important….nor are the rest of going to willingly assist you in your self-aggrandizement as you may expect us to do. Again, you will find yourself standing alone on the field, and you’ll still have to go home to your trailer, nasty wife and sucky retail job…

  39. in regarding the ‘do your own impression and to hell with what other people think’
    i was hoping that the pike and musket society had abit of an arm related to the renaissance pike and shot period i.e the italian wars, wars of religion and dutch revolts of the 1500’s i in particular am drawn to taking on the persona of a zweihander weilding landscknect,
    only pproblem is i cant sew to save my life, so i see significant problems making the complex puffed and slashed garments of that era.

    if i, in future, (since i have problems finding time and money to continue in my post in the sydney NVG) was to ask to join, but possessed the gear and kit of a swiss pikeman or german landscknect,
    how could i integrate that into the societies goals and aims?

  40. STOP calling yourselves “Living Historians”. Historians have college degrees and are trained research and interpretation of source materials. Reading several books on a subject does not an expert make. I am reading 75 separate books and 4000+ pages of original source material on the strategic bombing Japan to write a single book about one B-29 squadron. Unless you have a degree in history you are not a historian plain and simple.

    DO understand that role playing for the public’s benefit is more akin to acting than historical interpretation of events and facts.

    • I think the term “Living History Re-Enactor” should satisfy the most pedantic among us (and I write this as a professional historian with a graduate degree and 35+ years of professional experience, enough not to worry about being pedantic).

    • I call myself a “historical interpreter.” However, because my B.S. degree is in science, not history, shouldn’t mean you should make assumptions on my ability to research, especially using original source material. My college degree concentration was in the obscure field of historical ethnobotany, and I have applied skills from both my research and my hands-on experience. And can tell you that sometimes the historians who have only research material at hand can arrive at erroneous conclusions. I cite the marine historians who lived briefly on a reproduction of Captain Cook’s ship, living and eating as the crew would have, and who had to revise their ideas based on actual experience. Also “Living historians” not in academia might well have impressive research credentials. (Someone once asked what book I’d used as a source for information, and I replied “The Bancroft Library.”)

    • Neither one of you labled your selves ‘Living Historians”. I am not directing my remarks at the college educated. Disciplined research, as you pointed out, is universally applicable. Yes it is also true taht historians working strictly from source materials can draw incorrect conclusions. That is a fault in his process and he is not a GOOD historian. I am speaking to those who have no idea how to perform any research yet take the attitude they are somehow the purist in the hobby they have been in for 9 months. I am speaking directly to the ‘holier than thou’ self proclaimed ‘living historians’ who poo poo anything other than what they like to do as ‘cap busting’. Of course sailing around in a ship and believing you are performing any useful research on a particular individual is like riding around in 32 Ford believing you are researching Bonnie and Clyde. We all need to take a deep breath and realize, it is a hobby and it is all thing to everyone. If you believe you should be able to edit someone’s interpretation of their own hobby, start a Boy Scout pack, you can tell those little bugger how things should be done all day.
      One thing I REALY wish re-enactors whould stop doing: Having these little discusions about how other people should be enjoying their hobby. Use the soap box for fire wood and make your own little part of the hobby better, if enough people think like you you will find each other and viola! You will have a like minded unit/group to hang out with. It has worked for me this past 20 years or so.

      • Just to let you know Chris, some of us may not have a history degree, but we have spent a lot of time researching. I do plan to get a degree in American History, but I’m only 16. I have spent the last two years reading book after book after book, thick ones, on every aspect of my role, from clothing to speech. And yes, other people should not tell others how to do things.

  41. Having done Medieval, Tudor , and Elizabethan re-enactments, I was always taught to answer and educate the public upon reqest, answer as truthfully as possible and refer questions beyond my area of expertise to someone in the group more capable in the topic than myself, under best circumstances , walk them over and give a proper, period introduction, including referencing the topic in question so that a ‘jumping-off’ place was established. Re:laundering- If the event is to be seen as a Festive day then most populace would have cleaned up to the best of their ability. I always preferred to let my dresses hang dry as the weight of the damp clothes made extra pressing unneccessary. As to ‘Historians’- as a child of and friend to many educators, it has always been impressed upon me that the day you stop wanting to learn you might as well dig a whole, jump in , and pull the dirt in atop yourself. I would add, if you stop trying to pass along encouragement to others to read and learn, dig the same hole. In one group we gathered each year for “Dissertation and Dessert” to discussed what had been researched by the members and how it applied to our goals in re-enactment. As my health has been failing I still try to learn and pass along information before I pass on myself.

  42. I am a living historian, and I do not hold any college degree. Have fun with your bomber book.

  43. As a CW, Rev. War & WWII reenactor first of all I have strived to duplicate the uniform, equipment and personal appearence in regards to facial hair and hair style of the period that I was recreating. In any period in time there has always been many things in common in the military structure; that being dicipline, uniform in clothing, equipment and personal appearance and conduct.
    I accepted the public spectator wanting to be entertained and found them often to be a distraction. Most spectators would not think nothing of it if they witnessed a Rev. War reenactment of George Washington crossing the Delaware River in a WWII PT boat to attack the Hessians at Trenton armed with M16 rifles. It has been an expensive, rewarding and fun hobby.

    • Yes. I think that many reenactors get upset when they discover that the public doesn’t really care about authenticity. They need to realize that this is a hobby you have to do for YOURSELF, otherwise you’ll just go crazy.

  44. One of the most annoying thing about reenactment is that some people think that THEY ARE the person/military rang they’ve chosen to portray, and thus refuse to lift a hand with the running of a camp.
    Yes, walking around camp with bling on the lapel and a suitable demeanour to go with the uniform is appropriate while the public are around, but AFTER HOURS that’s just not on.

    Water/fire wood/cooked food will not just miraculously appear, and everyone needs to lend a hand, so that everyone can relax and enjoy themselves.

    Otherwise no-one will want to portray peasants/serfs/prisoners/convicts, if it actually means having to do hard labour, while the ‘gents’ sit back with a glass of port and a cigar.

    • I actually quite like this aspect of events, Ricarda. I find it helps immensely with the immersion aspect. As one who prefers to play enlisted soldiers in the various Western armies (with the exception of a political commissar in the Spanish Civil War, which brings an entirely different set of rules) I have to recognize that I would not have had much leeway in deciding who to obey. For millenia, privilege was determined by birth, and was not fair, democratic, or just. For the majority of those at the bottom of the pyramid, and especially those in the military, life was a game of jumping when the man with the gilded uniform and sword said “jump.”If an officer orders me to haul firewood so he and his companions can be warm, I say “Sir” and do it if I don’t want a flogging. Why would I be willing to put on an anachronistic uniform, sleep in a ditch, and wear out my heels trying to live ‘in the moment’ if I wasn’t prepared to psychologically commit myself to unpleasantness? If they are portraying an officer who’s invested in the trappings of “bling and a suitable demeanor,” I’ll take my humble pay and my grog and be conscious of my place. I quite enjoy it that way!

      • I enjoy that aspect of events too. The physical exertion makes it feel more real.

        I think that far too many reenactors bring a modern mindset to events, and this is a perfect example. If you really do want to experience history, as is the claim of most reenactors, you have to have the same mindset.

    • Besides, Ricarda, why are you at these events if not to do hard labour? I think the fundamental question here may be the term “after hours.” For me, I’m at an event the whole time I’m in uniform or character, public or not. Like I said, before the event when everyone pulls up in their pick-ups, I expect everyone to pitch in.

  45. My Doctorate is not in history so I don’t really have a whole lot to say about the living historian title. However since I have worn my 14th and 16th century dressess every day for 22 years and teach a lot about the 1348-1350 black pestilence, often chained, caged, and put on trial as a necromancer – witch I consider what I am doing “Living History”. I am an apothicary which in that era was more and more common for females since the pestilence wiped out the majority of males. That is documented. It is also documented as to why the whole witch thing started even though the pope himself did not believe in it.

    I do use modern technology but my operating system is from 1974. I am picky like that and my career required it. But I went to work in a 14th century commoner outfit. It was comfortable and to be honest dignifing. As long as it did not interfear with my job it was fine and respectable. Clothing of today you pay a fortune and get a scrap of cloth. It is awful what people wear nowadays. No dignity whatsoever. I work in 2 eras. The era of the black pestilence, mainly right after it since it took England 200 years to recover from it, and the era of my family line which I am slowly restoring which was thought to be wiped out. It wasn’t and we have the proof. It just went underground in 1650. That I am doing for my dad and my grandad and all those forced to flee the homeland in the early 1800’s. I enherited a title when I was born. I thought it was just something dad called me. I didn’t know I was the 20th successor in the line of my family. Titles don’t mean a lot anymore but to my dad it is important. To me it is irrelevant, archiac but to dad it means something. I made a rule never argue with a highland born scot. Again I don’t have the papers in history for such a title according to the so called pros but I do what I do because I like doing it. Just because one hasa doctorate doesn’t mean they are a pro anyhow. In the beginning nobody had papers. Look at aerospace which my brother is one of the top spacecraft designers for Roscosmos. Did they have papers then? You think Korolev had papers in aerospace engineering or rocket science? Hell no.

    Since most of my work was in Novosibirisk most of the commoner clothing was perfect for the climate too. Yes some take the whole thing a tad too far when the idea of living history was to have fun and get an idea what it was like back then. Nobody can really say what it was really like though. Science is the art of guessing. Usually educated guessing but still its a guess. When I go around the ruins of several of my families castles I can only imagine the fear in peoples minds back then. I mean 8 foot thick stone walls? It was a time of fear more then anything. My point is we are all experts in something but also all beginners. True wisdom comes from knowing that you know nothing.

  46. Stop doing: dear Director of “X” event, please stop charging sutlers $20.00 or more (per type of sutlery) and spend $0.00 on advertising the event to the public. I make $11,000 /year and scrimp to afford printed flyers for interested public, and large sign at corner of road for public to see, and putting up flyers around my town.
    stop doing: selling “china flats” (a type of women’s shoe). they look bad, especially with red vinyl/plastic soles. gives public wrong ideas. Sutlers, can you maybe stock all black/all navy, etc leather jazz oxfords or leather “ballet” flats instead? or not carry china flats at all.

  47. Totally agree. I’ve been reenacting on and off for several years, and have by far had the most fun when it was: Historical (not just fancy dress drinking), Non Misogynistic (I really hate sexism in reenacting) and what I wanted to be doing (for example I now reenact Spanish Civil War, which I am really interested in).

    One other thing I would add is not add some politics and awareness of the political situation in the time/impression you reenact. For example as a Spanish Civil War reenactor politic is really important to the whole war and the interantional support.

    • Yep. My favourite events are private tacticals with a high level of authenticity (no Family Guy jokes in the trenches), with a non-misogynistic group, doing an impression I enjoy. Unfortunately, it is extremely difficult to find all of those traits all at once. It doesn’t seem like a lot to ask for, but apparently it is.

  48. Emma, where/what do you reenact the Spanish Civil War as? I’m a Guerra Civil Española reenactor as well! I’m a company commissar for a Lincoln Battalion group, and would love to connect with you. Find me on facebook at Mateo Lorenzo Ehrlich, and I’ll send you an invite to our facebook group. We’re trying to make all the SCW connections we can!

    ¡Salud y Viva la República!
    Matt

  49. Also, Emma, are you the revolutionary new maker of SCW cartucheras I’ve been hearing about?

  50. Do you not have the SCA near you?
    We do dinners, tavern nights with period games, A&S sewing circles, drink making, shoe making, encampment making, everything right down to pewter rattles if you want to, making. Camping events, indoor events, day events, week long events. Women are included in all facets of the game, including fighting or anything else they want to do. We don’t recreate certain people, in fact, it’s strictly prohibited, so you never have to worry about hearing someone complain that they could only be King Henry VIII, if only they had 100 retainers.
    Now, where I live we don’t do a whole lot of demos for the public, which I think does the group a disservice. Apparently they used to do them quite frequently about 15 years ago now. It is something I wish we did more of, to show the public how things were made, what life was like, pre 1600’s. But, at the very least, I have never been told not to do something, or treated poorly, “because that is how things were done in years passed.”
    And of course, when it comes to the hobby I love, the more the merrier!

    • We do have an SCA unit near us, and I’ve attended a few of their events, but the atmosphere isn’t really what I’m looking for. The general level of authenticity is too low, and there’s just not enough actual history for me.

  51. I love how for every stop you have a start. That is extremely helpful to many of us to see! Lead by example, regardless of what social activity it is. :)

    • I think too many people love to complain without offering suggestions on how to improve. It’s one of my pet peeves, so you definitely won’t see that here!

  52. Kelsey – I am so glad I found your blog. I am only 3 years into Rev War reenacting, and learning alot. I LOVE this hobby and really think I have found something really important to me. I am finding the group I have been involved with really cares little for authenticity and many of your above comments are reinforcing that I am in the wrong group. They have the “If it looks old, it’s good enough” attitude as well as a bunch of old fur trade era rondyvooers who have been in the hobby a hundred years and see no reason to change. It’s incredibly frustrating. I will keep looking at your blog and trying to learn! Thanks so much.

  53. One thing I’ve loved about weekend boffer games is that they’re straight 48 hours, in character from friday evening through sunday. Even sleeping. I’m perhaps more obsessed with sleeping, eating, dressing, etc, in character than most, but that’s partly cause I’m nuts for being in character, and partly because of YOUR influence!

  54. Eoghan mac Eoghain

    START: Conducting research based only on primary, peer reviewed sources from interviews, jounals, libraries and museums then making your kit and character based on that research.

    STOP: Using information that is not current or reproduced.

    I think there are a lot of groups who are historically inaccurate, in big and small ways, who do research from certain online encyclopedias and the like. They state that they are a historical reenactment group. But, this is only part of the big problem.

    “Beware of the zealot!”

    I’m enthusiastic about the time periods I reenact too, but, some of these folks are over convicted. Both issues can lead a path of foolishly misrepresenting your character e.g. Kilts on “16th century” Irish. My issue is that these folks are making claims that their character is historically accurate to the time period they say they’re portraying.

    Making false claims is bad form. Making claims based on poor knoweldge is bad too. Both ruin the integrity and perception of the reenacting community; especially when you are very adamant about the information they are providing. Don’t be that person.

  55. I am so with you on this!! I use to be a part of a pirate group to help out a friend who was really interested in the pirate thing (he woks on a period ship). His whole crew was lean and neat. I was covered in tar, dirt, with burn holes and missing buttons. I was the only one who looked like a prate and I wasn’t that to it. i looked, acted, talked, and drank like a pirate and what happened they all got mad about the accuracy! It was a joke.

    • Eoghan mac Eoghain

      Yeah, I’ve guested with and have noticed that in, some groups period accuate=what the rest of group is doing. It’s this beehive mentality that screws up lots of groups. Why pirates and Scots/Irish are the 2 groups you run into this issue with the most? Between PotC and Braveheart, there is a large number of folks willing to “do my own thing” which now means “do whatever the hell I want, regardless of how it affects other individuals or the community.”

      It’s become a problem here on the west coast (Bay Area, CA). I am part of one of the few groups who is still doing things the period way, St. Maximilians Landsknecht Reenactment Guild (better known as von Fürstenberg Fähnlein). The RenFaire circuts here used to be pretty focused on maintaining a historical atomsphere during faire hours. There where rules and folks followed them. Now, everyone working faire dresses like a steampunk or a fairy and drinks out of pewter… It all collapsed in the last 10 years or so. There’s also no use talking to the “managment” or trying to educate those dressed like belly dancers.

      One cool thing though, is that it has been so much easier attracting those who are interested in real reenactment. They walk past two “pirate ships,” a viking shop and some dude walking around in a cotton duck costume picking his nose, then, they see our camp. I had a 7 year old come up to me and ask if we were ‘lands-kn-ecks?’ and if I was a ‘dop-el-sold-ner?’ totally cute and smart kid. We also get folks from Germany wanting to guest with us because “there just aren’t any groups in Europe doing Landsknechte correctly” (refering to the Euro SCA) becasue there aren’t.

      Faire in this neck of the woods is slowly dyin’, it’s Buring Man meets Elizabeth I. We are now doing more closed reenactment events, like School of the Renaissance Soldier, an AWESOME event. I think all who have the land and weather/availability/ability should hold as many private events as they can. Closed reenactment events are the best and they are responsible for the preservation of historical reenactment.

  56. Patrick Shepherd

    Responding to your question about what I would like to see re-enactors stop doing.

    I would really like them to stop calling what they do history. It’s not. It’s dress up and almost universally I find it demeaning to the historic record. In my experience very few re-enactors are serious students of the era they claim to portray. The military groups seem to be populated by men who never got over playing soldier. The stories that they package as “history” frequently are the historic version of urban legend that are rife with error.

    In the colonial era town where I live there is a guy who plays dress up in frilly breeches and minces around the historic district with an awful faux British accent claiming to portray the 18th century founder of our town, about whom there is little historic record and of whom there are no known images. In all likelihood, the real man was a rather hard scrabble character with few pretensions but that does not slow down the dress up guy who is clueless about how offensive his portrayal is to many people and how little reliable historic fact he conveys. This guy is an actor not an historian yet he has become our town’s ambassador of history. It’s really embarrassing.

    I am respectful of your hobby, particularly if you are committed to doing it accurately but in my experience you would be the exception.

    Not trying to flame anyone or troll. These are comments are just based upon my observations as someone who has been trained in historic inquiry.

    • Patrick:

      What is your connection with the reenactment community at large? Are you a member of the hobby, or basing your opinion on observance of a few events and individuals

      I think what you say is certainly true of many- I might even go so far as to say the majority- of reenactors.

      However, a significant and powerful bloc of us are academics or serious amateur historians. I know a good number who have doctorates in a field they reenact, are published authors on the subject, or else are working as museum curators, etc. These individuals almost without exception contribute to our academic understanding of both the material and social cultures of the societies and times they portray, including those that involve a military perspective.

      I strive to be one of them. I’m in a graduate program studying modern Spanish history, and have found that a Spanish Civil war group I participate with has made pretty notable educational impact in areas where we’ve set up demonstrations or participated in time lines. Most of the other members have read up intensely on the time period, have extensive collections of material culture, and some have even published articles with the ALBA Volunteer. As this important and complex period remains relatively unknown, I see no problem with using reenactments as a legitimate tool for education and introduction; provided, of course, that it’s done responsibly and educationally.

      Sometimes we fail.

      I will agree- probably all the readers of this blog will agree- that those polyester Monty Python impersonators do far more harm than good; which is why they’re usually denigrated in our community as “Farbs” and singled out. But to say that they have a monopoly on historical inaccuracy is a fallacy. In fact, I have heard tired myths fall out of the mouths of high school history teachers and older college professors that the majority of reenactors years ago dismissed – the supremacy of the rifled musket and ‘indian tactics’ on Revolutionary War battlefields being one paraphrased example.

      As for the loaded charge (no pun intended) of “playing soldier”- some are probably guilty. There are, however, an huge number of real-life veterans who reenact, frequently in an effort to understand and put into historical perspective their own service – what do you make of them? And what would you make, for instance, of units made up of present-day veterans, graduate students, and historical costumers that spend weekends camping in freezing temperatures, cooking period rations, and standing picket, without ever once coming into contact with an opposing force? Are they playing at Red Indians, or might you be willing to give that group a little bit more credit as serious experimental researchers? There are a lot of groups like that, spanning all eras. I can point to numerous examples, if you’d like.

      In answer to your post, then, I would counter that a reenactment done correctly /can/ be history -and that there are many that are.

      • Patrick Shepherd

        Thanks for this thoughtful reply. As I said in my post, I am not trying to be antagonistic and I certainly understand the perils of painting with too broad a brush. No doubt there are serious minded re-enactors. I also know from first hand experience that at least some academics are committed to the hobby. Forgive me if I have offended.

        I have no connection to the reenactment community but I have a significant and long-standing relationship to educational organizations interested in preserving history and increasing historical consciousness. I have an undergraduate history degree and a masters in a related field, both from good schools. I have worked alongside trained historians, primarily in the museum and publication fields for a number of years and regard myself as well versed in historical method.

        Currently my most relevant experience is as an appointed public official responsible for working with a committee which oversees a variety of history related programs in our town. My comments were primarily, though not exclusively, animated by that experience.

        I am finding it incredibly difficult to move our board beyond historical reenactment–in our town, in every case, it’s done very badly–and to get folks interested in a serious minded approach to preservation of and awareness about our area’s rich heritage which is not strictly related to armed conflict.

        The Dress Ups (pardon my phraseology if it sounds demeaning) are all about playing soldier and we cannot plan a single educational event without the inevitable suggestion that a color guard open the ceremony and fire a volley or two. It is so ridiculous that we are having to talk about a WWII infantry group open a ceremony that has nothing at all to do with war, much less WWII.

        I live in an area thick with Civil War battlefields and also have seen too many battle reenactments featuring overweight Rebs and Yanks busting their buttons from too many Big Macs and looking pretty un19th century. Sometimes not enough soldiers on one side or the other show up and the outcome or the details of the reenacted battle is altered to fit the available cast, all of whom need to “play.”

        Many years ago I had a close relationship with Colonial Williamsburg that convinced me how difficult it is to do historical interpretation correctly. One of the things that impressed me was the amount of training those folks received and the mastery of the material they were required to demonstrate before being set loose on the public.

        The reenactment groups I have observed seem to have no quality control at all. If you can buy the kit, you’re good to go. Ya got the duds, you’re in the suds, so to speak.

        In our town, that impulse has gotten completely ridiculous and the re-enactors with the highest profile are some of these least thoughtful and least educated folks in town. Many of them want to filter every local history event through their “character” or parochial interest, while they frequently get the history completely wrong.

        One fellow in particular seems to think that his “character” was the only one present at a light heavyweight early American battle. When a neighboring town, or the local newspaper tries to disseminate a view that acknowledges the participation of other folks or the historical context of the battle, we end up having to deal with a turf war and allegations that our local hero is being devalued. After awhile it starts to seem like a Garrison Keillor monologue about Lake Wobegon.

        I have heard so much about this fellow’s “character” and his historical moment in the spotlight–a “Don’t fire until you see the whites of their eyes” sort of thing– that I have made a point to start reading as much about him as I can. As a result I have become pretty satisfied that his center stage moment might not even have happened. The more I look at the record, the more satisfied I am that the story is really the product an overheated family oral tradition. It’s certainly not reported in any contemporary accounts or serious histories of the event. The story seems to show up for he first time decades later in a memorial oratory.

        Many of our historic policy conversations and public events are dominated by the Dress Ups, and the more they flail re-enactment, the greater the number of folks in our town who are alienated from our real heritage, and derisive of the silly costume pageant that continues to unfold.

        One of these folks asked be to assume the role of local historical figure and give a presentation during an upcoming history related event. I declined politely, saying that I did not look very good in breeches, but offered to prepare a serious presentation delivered in a modern voice during the event. He had zero interest in my offer.

        The longer I read history books and particularly source documents, the more satisfied I am that the “history” that we think we know is a question of some filter or another, and that the totality of historical events is actually lost in the ether because the entire record has not been preserved. We owe it to ourselves and to future generations to treat the existing historic record with caution, respect and as much insight as we can bring to the task.

        I actually found this blog while looking for thoughtful critiques of historical reenactment as a contribution to a quality control document our panel is trying to put together.

        Sorry to sound like a curmudgeon but I am really growing weary of the Duds and Suds paradigm, particularly when–Bulletin. Bulletin- We’re trying to do history here.

        • Kelly A. Grant

          Hi Patrick,
          Farb refers to people you seem to be talking about. Those “dress-ups” that have fancy, but often not great costumes who stick themselves into scenarios as experts. Far it be from me to tell you how to go about….
          I can see your side of things, being a museum professional myself, but know that there are museum types that can be just as farby. We really have to be careful not to paint everyone with the same brush. We have to try and ask for, as well as strive for the very best. If you are having bad experiences, then you need to speak up to those providing those bad experiences. Preferably with proof to back up your argument. Ask for the best, strive for the best.

          • Patrick Shepherd

            Thanks very much, Kelly.

            It is especially touchy in our case because we are a politically appointed group. We need to maintain a big tent while assuring quality in the programs that we deliver. That said, I don’t want to set up our public board as the Farb Police.

            Right now we are working on a quality control process that,
            among other things, draws a line between our product and the product of folks who show up at our events. We have a top notch museum here with a great museum director whom I am hoping to depend on as a QC manager for the content of our programs.

            First up though consensus document based upon professional advice setting some standards and allowing us to nicely disclaim responsibility for certain content.

            I really appreciate all of these thoughtful and informed comments. A lot of times these boards turn into shouting matches and the replies here convince me of the seriousness of many reenactors.

      • Patrick Shepherd

        For all of my long windedness, I failed to address a couple of your questions about what I make of folks who stand post, camp, etc. as a form of what you say is experimental research.

        I really am at a loss to understand what that does to deepen our understanding of history. As an exercise in self-awareness I take your point but that really brings me back to my greater concern. When historic interpretation becomes personal a bunch of warning flags need to start going up.

        As you quite correctly point out, it’s hard enough to sort out the filters of serious academic tradition. When filters are the product of shivering or breathing camp fire smoke or relating one’s own experience in a modern conflict to an earlier war, I have trouble understanding what insight is to be gained except personal actualization.

        By the way, what does “Farb” stand for?

  57. When it comes to washing and “wear” on our clothes, it really depends on what a person’s role is, their position in society, etc… In our 18thC civilian group, we have a laundress and several high class ladies with servants. It would be silly if they were to wear grungy and worn out garb. There are many historic records of recipes for stain removals, laundry soaps, etc…, so we know that people washed clothes, however todays detergents and bleaches may make clothing look too bright and clean. Instead, I believe that encouraging people to do their research and adapt their clothing and personal cleanliness on their specific persona that they are representing.

    • Of course! :) I reenact Katherine Rittenhouse of Germantown, PA of the late 18th century, a upper-middle class young woman. I hand out treats and answer questions for the families and troops passing through our local military airport, so I should be clean.

  58. I’d say reenactors need to stop taking it so seriously that outsiders think they look like they aren’t having fun. Also, they should stop looking down their noses at those who do it for fun more than historical reasons. My experience with hard core reenactors left a bad taste in my mouth and made me seriously think if this hobby was worth it

  59. Harrison Irvine

    I love it. But I’m not so sure about the last one. My group does both historical activities and has done fun along with it.

  60. Just a suggestion, but volunteering at a local living history museum might help with the appreciation and knowledge of civilian life. I know that not all eras are covered but spending time with a hoe or sickle in a field, or cooking regularly over a hearth fire, are fairly universal experiences for most of human history. Hands on knowledge of that sort should translate fairly easily to almost any era of reenacting.

  61. Just found this old thread and am glad somebody has pointed out the all too obvious, especially with the secondary school elitism! Too many times have I had middle aged ‘reenactors’ (posers perhaps?!) tell me I’ve got a badge on the wrong cuff even when I show them original photos as evidence, and they can be quite rude. I once said to a man let’s agree to disagree and he said “no, you’re wrong”! It’s especially not easy being a young reenactor, even in my twenties!
    Andy

    • Getting stuck in “the way it’s always been” is a common occurrence in any field. In the professional museum/farm side of living history, we have to watch out for it all the time. There are always new discoveries, new archaeological evidence and bright young folks like you who notice new things in old photos/records that have been right under our noses. Keep doing it & don’t get too frustrated with those who’ve ‘done it forever’ and therefore, know ‘everything’, just keep track of your documentation for the ‘new’ things you do. Oh, and remember, when you’re older & have been doing it ‘forever’ and know ‘everything’ about it and some young Turk shows you evidence to the contrary, don’t be too hard on him.

  62. Thank you for posting this!! It has needed to be said for a very long time. My husband and I are taking a semi-permanent hiatus from the hobby because of the above mentioned problems. Oh, and the continued existence of our marriage thanks to his group and the ever present misogyny. Because encouraging the ridicule of your wives, infidelity and general disrespect toward all but the most silent of women is such a fun and healthy activity!! Sarcasm fully intended.
    We make do with our local ren-faire and occasional 18th C event and are now focusing our efforts on the much forgotten civilian life. No more military, thank you very much! It’s a love we share, but military reenactment was slowly splitting us up. No more groups with silly rules and drama, we shall be ramada rangers and happy that we can walk with minimal snaps and pops in the morning! There too comes a time when age simply precludes military reenactment, either portray a rank that matches your silver strands or hang up the musket and pick up the pen…or plow…..or bolt of cloth…..or silk handkerchief….whatever floats your boat!

  63. Dances are lame…its just an excuse for every tool bag to strut around in dress uniforms inappropriately and inflate their oversized ego’s

  64. My main gripe for a long time has been events where, after public hours, they allow people to bring vehicles into the camp! Sometimes the best part of the event is when the day starts to wind down and you can sit in front of your tent, around the fire with your friends and feel that for just a moment you have actually traveled back in time. Then some asshole pulls his SUV in behind the camp and cranks up the stereo!

  65. I think that putting down others is a huge problem. Help, dont hurt those who dont have the best impression. Another thing that is out of control is those who all of s sudden have rank that was not earned. Having the most stuff or being the creator of a group does not make you a CO. If you want to be a leader….LEAD!!!!! Dont stand there and point out farby people with your buddy who you made second in command because he has all the gear. I am starting a Vietnam war group in Ohio. It will portray the standard infantry “grunt” and a Lrrp group that a person would be proud to be a part of. There have been many observations made by all of us in our specific impressions. Lets fix things. Here is a good start. Have an open forum with your group. Then put it all on the floor. Sure there will be some bickering but in the end you will see it pan out.

  66. I completely agree. We need to not judge each other and make friends. It is for fun. I run an engineering corps and we’ve all been judged. I got kicked out of a unit for being blind. What sucks now for us is our seamstress left us and we are where we don’t want to be, making things last minute. Don’t judge someone and hurt them then act like a victim

  67. There is a difference between helping and bullying. Not everyone can afford really accurate stuff. New units can only do what is within their means. It is a hobby and everyone has the right to enjoy it. It is not a job, it is a hobby. If it looks right and not totally off, let them be, don’t berate them. Also no one’s research is 100% accurate or better than anyone else. We need to learn and keep an open mind to everything everyone has to say. Everyone needs to get along, not try to be better than each other. By acting like your research alone is right then you’re discouraging units and saying until you can be 100% right like me then you can’t partake in MY hobby. Regardless of starter or experienced person, we need to be friends and help, not berate every little thing, not bullies to new units. it prevents new people from joining and new units from being formed

  68. What’s with facial hair on 18th century male reenactors? Have read – and have been told numerous times – that most men in the 18th century (Jews, Catholic priests and others exempted) did not have beards. Yet go to a bastion of 18th century historical “accuracy” like Colonial Williamsburg, and you’ll see bearded interpreters. Am not speaking of the 5 o’clock shadow thing, or beards on “mountain men” who just walked out of the wilderness, but full, long beards on some musicians, tradesmen, and others. If it’s inaccurate by the norms and social standards of the time, then WHY?

  69. Great article. I am of an age *cough* 51 *cough* and just now thinking of getting into re-enacting. I am no where as in shape or even the same shape as when I was in my 20’s and under arms for HRH. The field seems to be the “thing” to do and burning powder is a big attraction for me but I would feel a little – dishonest? – in kitting up and pretending to be a serving soldier.

    Your suggestion of taking on the impressions you want to do is thought provoking especially since displaced civilian / entrepreneurial camp follower fits in with many more battles and even periods than donning a specific uniform.

  70. On the snject of doing something OTHER than battles: I started French and Indian War reenactin 5 years ago, ( I had done ACW and Buckskinning before that, going back to 1980) but I fell in with a loose group of people who worked at/ volunteered at a number of historic sites in the area. Mount Vernon, Carlyle House, Colvin Run Mill, Hager House, Claude Moore Colonial Farm, London Town, Lee-Fendall House, Ledbetter Apothecary Museum, Gadsby’s Tavern, etc.) and I doon found myself participating in events at many of those places. Some of the events include my Maryland Forces impression, but an increasing number involve a civilian impression, or a marginally military one. At Claudeoore Farm, we do the Militia encampment at their market fairs, but we’ll get into spontaneous debates about Oarliament’s authority to levy taxes on us, or whethet Colonel Washington is a ” Pompous @$$”. At London Town, I’ll soon do events as a local Carpenter. There is SO MUCH MORE to do in this hobby than simply drilling, marching, and shooting, if you get involved with lical jistorical sites. Besides, it allows the to expand their program and draw in more visitors woth little additional outlay, and you get tax considerations, etc. as a ” Volunteer”. You also may find that you start getting access to pmaces the public never sees, or to the undisplyed collections of museums. O am mow developing an impression as a ” Natural Philosopher”, demonstrating early expetiments with “Electric Fluid”, Camera Obscurar, etc. If I gave up my Military units, I would still find that my fall weekends ate booked solid by March!

  71. Bravo Buzz! And the visitors love those impromptu debates. They make people think about the mood of the times and the ideas that the colonists were starting to consider.

  72. Wylden Freeborne

    STOP: Pretending that one version of history is the whole, or “real” story.

    START: understanding that dynamic relationships are and have always been real. People being played out in the penultimate of the stereotype at all times will continue to have those falsities of our ancestors perpetuated. Not every white skinned person owned slaves. Not every Native person was stoic and spoke in broken language. Not every black skinned person was a slave or was submissive to white people. There is a history of resistance to the powers that control the narrative. Learn it from the voices that experience it and make your depiction of our ancestors dynamic and strong!

  73. I love your comment about only re-enacting the military/war side of things. I have been a re-enactor for over 20 years (primarily in the SCA but also other groups) and so many times have i heard the question “but will there be fighting there, because if there isn’t then none of the fighters and their non-fighting family/wife/girlfriend/partner will come”. And so often, you see them there for the fighting, and then they go.

    I know that people have different reasons of why they re-enact and what they want to do, but in period (no matter what period) no person did nothing but fighting. Or cooking. Or costuming. They were real people with real lives and other interests.

    And if you want the people who put in all the effort to run an event that will be fun for everybody, then support that whole event – not just some bits of it.

    Actually – here is one for you: STOP taking events and those who organise them for granted. These people put a lot of work into making sure that the event is run, and it can often mean they have to take time off work, outlay money from their own pocket and often don’t have time during the event to do what they want. START volunteering to help, start supporting every aspect of an event, and if you see soemthing that needs doing, or is going wrong, then make the effort to do it or fix it. START thanking the event organisers, or offer to take on something on the day so that they can have some fun.

  74. Wayne the Blacksmith

    Do not complain that basic hand forged and forge welded items are “not my period”. When the weapons you use and most of the iron work around your camp has been made using an arc welder! If your going to take the High ground on metal. Use forged wrought iron not arc welded steel.

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