I was pondering what to pen this week, struggling with whether to do a post on wars here and abroad from the 1700 and 1800s in honor of Veterans Day. I concluded I simply do not know enough about these wars or events to write intelligently on the subject. Likewise, a plethora of media outlets would be addressing the topic with much more historical accuracy then I could provide. I drummed my fingers on my laptop trying to figure how to spin the wars into my own commentary. Alas! The most popular American war during the 1800s was the Civil War, so much so that there are thousands upon thousands of people who reenact the battles every year. Reenacting!
Reenactors come into The Hobby for two main reasons. One is blood-ties, as their forbearers lived through certain events in time. The other is pure escapism. All reenactors are serious students of history. To varying degrees of extremes, they strive for authenticity at all times. Therefore, a high level of discomfort is to be expected in the name of historic realism. The role of the renactor is preservation of the past through living history; demonstrate what that means to the curious public and often times are cast as extras in feature films.
Carl Barker once said, “For history to be of value, it must reach the people and move them emotionally and intellectually.” For those who do not study history, are doomed to repeat it, as the saying goes.
The two largest following of reenactors are those who participate in the Civil War organizations and Creative Anachronism that is in present day translates to the Renaissance Faire that travels the nation every year. Obviously, there are hosts of other groups from various time periods all over the world. Many reenactors have take part in multiple eras such as Regency through Edwardian.
How would one enter such a Hobby? First, every individual must choose an era and possibly location which most appeals to him or her. Then they are required create a persona or impression; a character to play, if you will. The character may be a real person, such as Benjamin Franklin, or fictitious concoction. This impression must be thoroughly researched. What is the occupation or class status of this persona? How would they have dressed? What would they eat? How is their manner of speech? What are their cultural beliefs? Who would they social interact with? Reenactors are encouraged to research primary source documents for information.
Next and the most expensive part of The Hobby, is assembling one’s Kit or accruements including any required gear. Most people who reenact begin with lower class personas to keep expenses low. However this is relatively speaking. Many historical garments range from $300 on up. Anything less than $300, I am told, is quite cheap. It takes years to build up a kit. Military reenacting tends to be one of the most expensive as it includes authentic weapon reproductions. Since military reenacting is rather dangerous by nature, in addition to outfits issues that arise in severe weather (such as full wool and leather apparel in the full heat of the Southern summer), there is an insurance fee. Many reenacting organization have loner kits for people who are new to the endeavor or deciding if they wish to join after a few trial events.
As for actually ferreting out reenactors, well, that tends to require a bit more legwork from what I gather. If your eras of interest fall into the “popular categories” such as Medieval, Civil War, and Regency, you shall have the most luck finding likeminded assemblies. If, like me, your tastes diverge a bit from the normal fare, fear not, there are organizations out there; they just might be a bit more difficult to find. You may Google reenacting societies, but reenactors can be luddites, naturally. The fastest way to glean information is to attend an event and personally chat with a person about The Hobby. However, finding an event may also be problematic and time consuming. Remember almost all reenactors span multiple eras so it is quite possible to find a World War II reenactor at a Civil War demonstration. Scouring the news on historical societies museums, known living history towns (such as Williamsburg), and reading up on blogs is a fine way to discover the information you seek.
Also, be aware reenactors are scattered all over the globe and traveling long distances for events is part of the The Hobby. Across state lines is typical, but international travel is also possible. All of this comes from your own funds, mind you. Families are encouraged to attend as it raises the level of authenticity of an event. However, some organizations and events have a minimum age requirements for safety reasons, such as battle reenactments and handling of firearms. Besides it is a wonderful way to spend time with your loved ones without the distraction of current technology as well as way to immerse the children in aspects of history not taught in school.
Now, you may be wondering if I am interested in such an endeavor. It has certainly crossed my mind! The clothes! The formality of manners! The clothes! The ornate furnishings and detailed craftsmanship! The clothes! The fine art, galas, and dancing! Have I mentioned the clothes? Oh, my head is light with glee!