Avoiding "Presentational Arrogance" - Just for Reenactors & Living Historians?

lelliott19

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Dr. Curt Fields, who regularly portrays General Ulysses S. Grant, has coined an important NEW reenactor and living history term: presentational arrogance.* I like the term a lot and think it's important enough to warrant its own thread and, perhaps, be applied more broadly.

I can find no prior use of the phrase in this intended context and no official definition. But I think we all know what it means? If you've ever been to a living history presentation or reenactment, you have likely experienced presentational arrogance before. And, now that we know what to call it, I'm guessing we can probably identify it when we see it. :D

pres·en·ta·tion·al /ˌˌprēˌzenˈtāSH(ə)nəl/adjective relating to the way in which something is presented to an audience.

ar·ro·gance /ˈerəɡəns/ noun the quality of being arrogant.

Dr. Fields, as General Grant, asserts that failure to use a microphone during a living history presentation constitutes presentational arrogance. I agree and provide a few other examples that may constitute presentational arrogance:
  • The presenter assumes that the audience "already knows" certain key facts and fails to provide necessary background.
  • The presenter over-uses terminology that is both unfamiliar and undecipherable.
  • The presenter over-ornaments their speech with big words, metaphors, and rhetoric.
Can you think of other examples?

I think we can all agree that avoiding "presentational arrogance " should be a goal in Living History. But what about applying this concept more broadly? We should all seek to avoid "presentational arrogance" in our interactions with others about the CW, whether it is failing to use a microphone when one is available or presuming that others know the requisite vocabulary or background to fully understand.

Perhaps we can apply these concepts to our own posts and interactions here at CWT? I'm sure I am not the only one who has ever posted a thread or reply without providing sufficient background for those who may be new or unfamiliar with the background? I know that I will be making an effort in future posts to try to avoid it. Certainly worth consideration.

<* See here https://civilwartalk.com/threads/dispatch-from-general-grant-living-historians-should-use-the-microphone.154615>
 
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Tailor Pete

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As a long-time Resource Interpreter, I can attest to the fact that Presentational Arrogance is pervasive in most areas of interpretive education.

Interpretive Education is a form of interactive education of which Living History is but one branch. I believe that, while the various agencies that use such programming try to guard against it, Presentational Arrogance always seems to creep in.

I love the term, and will use it often, though I believe failing to use a microphone HARDLY qualifies as such. Just my humble opinion.
 

lelliott19

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I love the term, and will use it often, though I believe failing to use a microphone HARDLY qualifies as such. Just my humble opinion.
Thanks for your reply Pete. I thought this was one of those threads that was going to fall flat and disappear without notice. I appreciate your resurrecting it. Dr. Fields had more to say about use of the microphone and an explanation of why he categorizes failure to use it, when it is available, as "presentational arrogance." I posted it here: https://civilwartalk.com/threads/dispatch-from-general-grant-living-historians-should-use-the-microphone.154615/
 

Waterloo50

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Hi all,
Presentational Arrogance, a term I’ve never heard of until now. I actually only have to look at a few of my own threads to realise that I could be considered guilty of presentational arrogance, it’s not a deliberate thing on my part, it’s just that occasionally I make assumptions that people will know exactly what I’m talking about, for example, a thread that I started the other day is called ‘Kinston 22’, without thinking I assumed that anyone looking at the title would know something of the subject matter, I also realise that I had failed to explain the background story to the Kinston 22, my thread was posted in the Pickett forum and as such I assumed that anyone with an interest in Pickett would know exactly what the subject matter was, clearly I had made an assumption about other people’s knowledge base and interests. The problem, I believe is that it’s hard to strike a balance, post a thread that oversimplifies a subject and the more knowledgeable reader will likely turn away, make it too complicated and those who are just curious or just starting out on the subject may also turn away. I’ve noticed that some threads on CWT have page after page of good responses and flowing conversation, the common factor on these threads appears to be that the OP has taken the time to explain the purpose of the thread. When I was at university one of the first things that we learned on writing assignments was the rule of three, ‘Say what you’re going to say, say it, and say what you said’. I think I might apply that rule to my future threads, a successful thread is one that has purpose and clarity and...avoids presentational arrogance.:thumbsup:
 

lelliott19

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‘Say what you’re going to say, say it, and say what you said’. I think I might apply that rule to my future threads, a successful thread is one that has purpose and clarity and...avoids presentational arrogance.:thumbsup:
Thanks for your reply Waterloo. I agree that it surely makes sense to frame information in this way. The audience knows what to expect, receives it, and then experiences the benefit of a brief review, at the end.

I like to think of the information being provided like presenting a "gift." The intro is the card; the body of the information is the package; and the review at the end is like tying on the bow. The body is all well and good by itself, but the "card" explains the intent and the "bow" wraps it all up into a nice, neat, and attractive package.

I’ve noticed that some threads on CWT have page after page of good responses and flowing conversation, the common factor on these threads appears to be that the OP has taken the time to explain the purpose of the thread.
Excellent point. When the OP provides contextual info, everyone feels as if they have "permission" to participate and/or express their opinion.

a thread that I started the other day is called ‘Kinston 22’, without thinking I assumed that anyone looking at the title would know something of the subject matter, I also realise that I had failed to explain the background story to the Kinston 22, my thread was posted in the Pickett forum and as such I assumed that anyone with an interest in Pickett would know exactly what the subject matter was, clearly I had made an assumption about other people’s knowledge base and interests.
I think this is a great example. What is Kinston 22? :D

EDIT TO ADD: I just found the thread and read it. It did take me a while, but I think I finally figured out what happened. Here is a link to the thread https://civilwartalk.com/threads/kinston-22-was-pickett-justified-in-his-actions-and-was-it-legal.154661/#post-1985974
 
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Lubliner

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Not Guilty @Waterloo50. Not really when you stop to think on it. Kinston 22 has a hook. Journalism and English Composition are not taught in the same spirit. I wrote one article on Potosi News, and another on Big Black River Sting, intended for consumption hoping it would give others some inspiration in addressing their own audience. Mainly it is the comfort of your own submission you should try to attain. I feel very put off by some things I say, such as the last comment, and become defensive or squirmy thinking it will be read the wrong way. Most people have a good amount of innate sensitivity to what is given them. All it takes is patience and practice, and some people have natural gifts. Whatever the case, if the speaker some day wishes to mimic a bombastic cad, and does so consistently, a simple explanation is acceptable. If a writer wishes to present a case recording his personal judgments, he should take note of his peers. Whiskey does not age overnight, and sometimes immediacy is not always apparent. How can one study Civil war records and not be well-versed in communication? Explanations should be forthright and apologies sincere.
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Hi all,
Presentational Arrogance, a term I’ve never heard of until now. I actually only have to look at a few of my own threads to realise that I could be considered guilty of presentational arrogance, it’s not a deliberate thing on my part, it’s just that occasionally I make assumptions that people will know exactly what I’m talking about, for example, a thread that I started the other day is called ‘Kinston 22’, without thinking I assumed that anyone looking at the title would know something of the subject matter, I also realise that I had failed to explain the background story to the Kinston 22, my thread was posted in the Pickett forum and as such I assumed that anyone with an interest in Pickett would know exactly what the subject matter was, clearly I had made an assumption about other people’s knowledge base and interests. The problem, I believe is that it’s hard to strike a balance, post a thread that oversimplifies a subject and the more knowledgeable reader will likely turn away, make it too complicated and those who are just curious or just starting out on the subject may also turn away. I’ve noticed that some threads on CWT have page after page of good responses and flowing conversation, the common factor on these threads appears to be that the OP has taken the time to explain the purpose of the thread. When I was at university one of the first things that we learned on writing assignments was the rule of three, ‘Say what you’re going to say, say it, and say what you said’. I think I might apply that rule to my future threads, a successful thread is one that has purpose and clarity and...avoids presentational arrogance.:thumbsup:
Loo, always lean toward simple. Truly knowledgeable people will not be put off and simplicity brings along the less well versed members. I semi-ridiculed a member today for not knowing who George Thomas was and I regret that. Never assume your audience know as much as you but never talk down to folks either. That's a tricky balancing act.
 

Rusk County Avengers

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I think the term fits for some folks on a plethora of reasons.

I remember at a 150th event (in either 2010 or 2011) where the actors portraying Jefferson Davis and Sam Houston had their portrayals WAY off and myself and others called them on it, and they were adamant that the two men were good friends. I really left them speechless when I quoted Same Houston on his feelings about Jeff Davis. But they were overly arrogant about they're portrayals being right, even though Sam Houston hated Davis and was against secession, (the actor believed Houston was a hero who was for it, which he was neither), but to each his own.
 
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I think the term fits for some folks on a plethora of reasons.

I remember at a 150th event (in either 2010 or 2011) where the actors portraying Jefferson Davis and Sam Houston had their portrayals WAY off and myself and others called them on it, and they were adamant that the two men were good friends. I really left them speechless when I quoted Same Houston on his feelings about Jeff Davis. But they were overly arrogant about they're portrayals being right, even though Sam Houston hated Davis and was against secession, (the actor believed Houston was a hero who was for it, which he was neither), but to each his own.
". . .cold as a lizard and ambitious as Lucifer."
 

Rusk County Avengers

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". . .cold as a lizard and ambitious as Lucifer."
Exactly, the Sam Houston feller wasn't flattered.

I've always laughed at Sam Houston for saying that as he fit that bill more closely than Jeff Davis. Davis may have seemed that way to a lot of folks, but I would think anyone enduring his long list health problems would give off the same vibes.

Sam Houston didn't have the same excuse, he was just cold-blooded self-absorbed ***hole who looked out for number one no matter what. Arthur Fremantle may have summed Sam Houston up best in 1863: "Though evidently a remarkable and clever man, he is extremely egotistical and vain, and much disappointed at having to subside from his former grandeur."

But no matter how much I and others protested at the portrayal of Davis and Houston, it was all for naught as the two men were adamant they knew all about the two. Good times, the shade of red they turned too at that particular quote of Houston's was hilarious, especially since it was 19 year old kid getting onto too older folks. Yep good times.
 

byron ed

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...If you've ever been to a living history presentation or reenactment, you have likely experienced presentational arrogance before. And, now that we know what to call it, I'm guessing we can probably identify it when we see it.
Oh big time. Let's start with the microphone thing:

Declining a microphone is typically done with the presenter's mistaken idea they "are being considerate of the audience; demonstrating they are not above them," supposing "folks just prefer plain ole' folks"

So first thing out of the presenter's mouth is: "Can everybody hear me ok?" [you all know this happens all the time]. The problem with that question is that it unintentionally puts individuals "on the spot" in a group of people they don't know. The first persons answering invariably take the knee-jerk "polite" option: "yes." They want to keep things in a positive mode.

The problem at that point is that anyone else that says otherwise now automatically seems to be contradicting both the speaker and the first persons who answered. A goat.

Not to overplay the point. I realize this all happens at a subliminal level, and that it's not meant to be inconsiderate. But it is inconsiderate. An actually considerate speaker, being human, considers human social norms. I hesitate to say it, but women often are better presenters for this very reason.

So instead (please!) just take the lead as a presenter. That is what folks really appreciate. Confidently assume the microphone (or not, but only when there are fewer than a dozen in attendance). One last thing, be aware of baby boomers there. Assume some will be hard of hearing. You can't ask each one individually. But realize that if they can't hear you they will just opt out and try their best to look like they understand. It's a generational thing.
 
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EJ Zander

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While not a reenactor I have done presentations to large numbers of people about detection K-9s. The audience dictates the scope and depth of the presentation even though the subject matter is still k-9. It is tailored to fit what the audience would be most interested in. For example when presenting to an audience that is in the scientific community the focus maybe on the olfactory receptors of dogs with a comparison to human. I would include discussions on wind currents, temperature, etc and the effect on scent drift. If the audience is kids its going to be obviously lighter with plenty of hands on and more demonstrations. Explain how dogs work to scent source and then have the k-9 demonstrate by working a hide. Everyone can see how the dog behaves and read their body language. The presentation could be a mixture so some or all of the audience is engaged all of the time and come away feeling though they learned something and were I dare say entertained.
Sorry for the long winded example but the method has worked well for me.
 

byron ed

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...If you've ever been to a living history presentation or reenactment, you have likely experienced presentational arrogance before. And, now that we know what to call it, I'm guessing we can probably identify it when we see it.
Now on to the presenter faux pas that definitely comprises arrogance: BS.

History presenting is not vetted in the way medical or legal presenting is. There's no board of certification per se. The spectrum of expertise in history presenting runs from very very low to very very high. And that's often where the problem is.

At the lowest end is unfiltered BS. It's unfortunately way too common. It's driven mostly by agenda at the expense of any academics. Spin is the chief feature. If you know what to look for, you'll see a kind of "all-knowing" wink that tips you off that whatever statement was just made is probably BS.

Once you know this, this level of presenter can be otherwise interesting and entertaining. I don't dismiss it out of hand myself. But the problem becomes unacceptable when the audience is uninitiated, and therefore gullible. This is particularly disturbing if the audience is kids.

Another thing that will tip you off when a statement is BS: when the presenter's statement is primarily just a set up for a joke, (i.e. "...so he tells the recruiter, 'I am over 18'). That's not to say that humor isn't effective or desired, just that a presenter isn't there to be a comedian [all of you have seen this]. Again, folks are polite: the presenter's joke probably was not all that funny (even with the wink that was supposed to be your signal to laugh) but nobody wants to be the wet blanket. Everybody chuckles because that's what's socially comfortable. Don't prey on that. It isn't about you getting a reward. Give folks the good history story. Let the history stand on its own merit. That's what folks appreciate.

Some BS is not very intentionally arrogant; but merely rather the result of only having a magazine knowledge of history. Presenters have read certain articles or a certain book and forever lock onto whatever fact or premise is made by that particular author. Alternate views are not deemed worthy of mention, or if brought up it is to belittle or dismiss them. Let me say it; folks don't appreciate slanted presentations. People are smarter than you suppose. Mention some alternate theories and let them follow it up. Don't "like" your presentation so much that you never change it. This is not about "winning" anything.

Now for the worst "sin" imho, and I'm gonna be bold but honest: presenters that invoke Lost Cause. Almost as bad are those that rail against Lost Cause (a tendency of mine I admit). Talk about yer lost causes! Folks don't need that kind of BS.
 
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Deleted User CS

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I cannot stand presenters who stand the whole time and do nothing but read text for two hours. I can do that myself at home. Everyone who gives a public presentation should know their subject well enough to speak off the top of their head. When I speak publicly or even when I write, I do not use an outline. I do the necessary research; I use note cards to list my bibliography and footnotes as well as my notes I take from my primary and secondary sources. I use my note cards as a guide to assist me when I am writing. I have enough respect for the people I am communicating with on this website that I always make sure that my statements are clear and concise as well as grammatically correct. However, there are some posters on this sight who do think the world of themselves. David.
 

ucvrelics

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You see it often, especially with ones that spend a LOT of time in the role. We had a guy that played Jeff Davis and i swear evry year he got more and more like my Grand-Dad. Besides, My ex had a differ term for it.
 

byron ed

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...However, there are some posters on this sight who do think the world of themselves. David.
What does that mean exactly? Being boldly confident and liking oneself is not a bad thing. It's characteristic of the best of people, and if nothing else an asset for a good presenter. It's not Lent yet.
 

Deleted User CS

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What does that mean exactly? Being boldly confident and liking oneself is not a bad thing. It's characteristic of the best of people, and if nothing else an asset for a good presenter. It's not Lent yet.
Well. Since I been a member of this forum I have come across certain individuals who think their views are the only ones that count for anything. They want to control the dialogue and attempt to interject their particular points of view regarding certain topics of the civil war. I am just making an honest observation based on my experience. You can agree or disagree. David.
 

byron ed

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I cannot stand presenters who stand the whole time and do nothing but read text for two hours. ...When I speak publicly or even when I write, I do not use an outline...
The danger in that is the tendency to ramble, a common trait of many history presenters as we know. The history "fan" in each of us needs to be moderated. So for certain personality types it is actually better to work from an outline, though I agree that should not be reading from a script.
 

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My Mom, God rest her soul, was an 'interpreter' for Colonial Williamsburg from the time I was 12 until I turned 35. Whale-bone hips and handsewn dresses down to the ankles, period attire with the little hat pinned on top. For years she would sit and make note of artifacts, typing every night in front of the TV, and earned a serious wage doing so. She was good, and shared many stories with us of her crowds she led through building such as the Capital, Carter's Grove (regular attire), etc. The idea of being full of oneself brought this to mind, being full of her, I presume. But being friendly in boldness is one aspect only. A bond most be formed to communicate efficiently, and attract the listener instead of shunning one aside. Just a way of saying thanks.
Lubliner.
 
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