Definitions - reenactment? living history?

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thomas aagaard

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So Iam currently in the process of writing my final project at university.

Iam looking into "How danish museums define and use"levendegørelse" and why some use it and others don't"

The word levendegørelse I would translate to "making alive"

One challenge is that we use a number of different words.
Levendegørelse, living history, reenactment, historisk håndværk (historical crafts,) rollespil (roleplay,)
Første person. (first person)

But there are no official definitions or even definitions that most museums agree on.
(and this despite the fact that most major danish museums gets lots of money from the state and our ministry of culture use many of the word in their texts.)

One of the few clear definitions I found was actually the US national park service and their way of defining reenactment compared to living history... (reenactments got two opposing sides "fighting", living history don't)

So one task is to ask a lot of museum how they define it... and how they use the different methods.
Then look at how specific museums do things.


As I see it we have four groups of people who are relevant to ask about how they define it.
The museums
The academics
The volunteers who spend their free time on a hobby. (paied or not)
The guests at the museums

The reason the last group is relevant is that if they read on a website that this weekend will have "living history at the museum" and they go... they will have some expectations of what to expect.

But Iam curious about how people here on this forum see this question.


So I would like you to answer some simple questions
How do you define "reenactment" ?
How do you define "living history"?
(and roleplay and 1.person.. but they are less important)

Are are you?
Employed at at museum/national park or similar
Academic?
Reenactore
just interested in history and sometimes visit museums.


Please note that I might use your reply in my project as an example.
 

John Winn

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I've not done living history or reenacting but I do know people in the historical society who do what they call "living history" and have been a spectator at "reenactments." In my very limited experience (I live out west where Civil War reenactment is not common but does happen) I see an overlap between "living history" and "reenactment." Often at a reenactment event there'll be demonstrations and educational talks done by the same persons who reenacted (e.g. artillery demos). There's often also things like a sutler's row at a reenactment which isn't directly combat related.

That said, I'd agree that if an event is billed as a reenactment it would be expected to entail combat while something billed as living history would not. Many historic sites have living history presentations where people are dressed in period costume and perform functions of the day (e.g. weaving, making butter, plowing). I've never seen those kinds of things advertised or said to be reenactments; only combat demos get that billing. As a spectator, that would be my expectation of what I would be seeing if I read one of the two terms: "living history" is a demonstration of non-combative history by living actors while "reenactment" would mean the actors portraying a battle (but, as I said, might also include some living history demos at the same event).

Hope that's of some help.

Edit to add: I don't know about "first person" - haven't ever seen that used - and haven't seen "role play" used exactly either but many historic cemeteries (the one where I volunteer included) often host events where people assume the role of someone buried in the cemetery and perform monologues in costume providing a little biographical sketch. These are almost always done as fundraisers. Ours is very popular. Such portrayals are, to me, different than living history presentations as the latter usually don't involve a specific individual being portrayed. So role play happens, I've just never seen it labeled that way. Typically advertisements would say something like "see history brought to life and hear the pioneers tell their stories." Those doing the portrayals would typically be referred to as actors/actresses.
 
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LoriAnn

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I'll help! :smile:

How do you define "reenactment" ?

An event where reenactors play out an event in history, making it as historically accurate as possible. Tanks are bonus! (I'm kidding.)

How do you define "living history"?

When reenactors portray characters from the past and share historically accurate information. Playing out a specific event in history is not required.

I am a spectator who is interested in history, and I prefer reenactments because the closest museum to me is the McDonalds "museum", and let's face it...there was no artillery involved in the making of those hamburgers. *snore*
 
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James B White

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I think a reenactment makes visitors expect gunfire, usually two sides fighting each other.

A living history means visitors can go up and talk to one or more soldiers portraying someone from the period.

Roleplay can include first person but can just mean people at a distance, wearing uniforms, maneuvering and shooting, with bugles, drums, horses, flags, all the cool stuff.

First person should be like watching a movie, except you can interact with the actors. Usually, the public can only interact when the shooting is over or hasn't started yet, for safety's sake. This doesn't always happen although it's promised. I mean, when the shooting stops, the reenactors immediately become modern and aren't in character anymore. The limits are set so the first person is during the battle, but during the battle you can only see the soldiers from a distance. So it's no different than roleplay.

What I really enjoy is a civilian role during a first person battle. Hanging back where it's "safe," hopefully in something a little more realistic than an orange ribbon across a hayfield, allows great first person discussion about what's going on, what I hope will happen, what happened over the last few days, do I know anyone in either army, what are my fears, what do I hope, both personally, financially and politically...

I've volunteered a lot at both peacetime and wartime situations, and been employed at a peacetime museum. The museum enforced first person. The volunteers did whatever they wanted. Even when it was advertised as first person, it usually wasn't.

The big difference is when the "on stage" time is over. If it lasts during the battle only, the situation will be quite different than if it lasts though the night into the next day. The latter is very, very cool but also very rare and most reenactors refused to do it and hated it. Usually, it lasted during the battle only. Sometimes it came and went, maybe during period meals, maybe during scheduled skits like pay call, you never knew. Maybe certain people were in character, maybe others weren't. For the public, it must be hopelessly confusing, and for the reenactor, it surely was. And then there were reenactors who stayed in first person or roleplayed to the public but not to other reenactors. And actually got angry if you expected them to do what they'd come here for and what they just did for the visitor. It was apparently a chore that they hated. To me, it was a voluntary hobby that I thought was fun.

Strange times.
 

AndyHall

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There is overlap between "reenactment" and "living history," and the difference is one of their focus. Reenactment involves the recreation of a specific event (usually historical, but not always), while "living history" focuses more on the broader, day-to-day experiences of people in the past. Civil War reenactors frequently do both -- a reenactment on the battlefield, and then "living history" back in camp.

ETA: To add to what James B White says, "first-person" living history, where the person stays in character while interacting with the public, is very hard to pull off successfully; attempts at it (in my experience) often come off as hokey.
 
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huskerblitz

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ETA: To add to what James B White says, "first-person" living history, where the person stays in character while interacting with the public, is very hard to pull off successfully; attempts at it (in my experience) often come off as hokey.
But the ones who can do a remarkable job at it!

Most of the living history events I've been to has been individuals who portray a particular person they have researched or have read their diary, etc., and bring that person to life for the audience.
 
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LoriAnn

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I met a man portraying Grant who stayed in character pretty easily. He was fun.

My husband said, "Sir, we saw your house in Galena not that long ago."
Grant: "Oh? And how did you find it?"

Tom took this literally and tried to explain how to get to Galena from the city the 3 of us were currently standing in. When he was finished, I replied, "I found it to be very lovely, General. A beautiful house."

Grant smiled at me and said to Tom, "The lady answered correctly."

Was I graceful about this teeny little victory over the Smarty Pants I live with? Of course not. The second Grant turned around, I looked at Tom and delivered a rather triumphant :mstickle:.
 

AndyHall

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Without knowing what YMMV means, I say, Well done, my friend! That's what I thought would help the OP, as well as me. I really like your "trend line" too! However, the "trend line" might require its own Venn Diagram, or incorporated into a more complex diagram. :smile coffee:
YMMV = "your mileage may vary," i.e., your experience may be different.
 

AndyHall

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I met a man portraying Grant who stayed in character pretty easily. He was fun.
When I visited the Smithsonian Museum of American History in 2009, it was the Lincoln Bicentennial and they had a Lincoln impersonator there, who was uncanny good — very tall and thin, drawn face, the works. It was crowded and noisy so I didn't get to hear him say much, but he was extremely impressive to watch.
 
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How I look at it is that reenactments are specific events that are recreated ti provide a visual for the audience from that part of history. Living history is a broader and deeper aspect, focusing on anything ranging from camp life, to reenactments, to campaigning. Usually when you are living history it's good to make up your own persona. In my case it would be I'm Harold O'Coll, a grass root Scotch-Irishman whose family moved in TN in the late 18th century to seek opportunity. I'm a hunter, and I brought here my Pa's flintlock musket to compensate for the lack of supplies.

I'm a reenactor by the way.
 

alan polk

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YMMV = "your mileage may vary," i.e., your experience may be different.
Well I just learned something. But, seriously, thanks! I'm a nerd of sorts (but apparently not one of a nerd who is up on internet acronyms) and think the Venn is appropriate in this discussion. So thanks:smoke:
 

LoisPauline

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I believe "living history" takes it one step further and adds a large amount of humanity to the experience. It isn't just a scripted event you get to experience their emotions through a person who enjoys the subject and feels enough about it to honor the past and what these people went through. To me living history starts making you THINK more.
 
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FedericoFCavada

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How do you define "reenactment" ?

I tend to think of "re-enactment" as being a specific scenario acted out... That is, the signing of an important document or treaty, a public ritual or specific historical event being portrayed.
I cannot comment on Denmark, but in the United States, the NPS/ National Park Service is the custodian of National Historic Battlefields. It is utterly anathema to ever use the term "re-enactment" at U.S. battlefields, since it is viewed as possibly offensive to veterans of actual battles, disabled veterans, etc. etc. It may be "PC" but there it is. So "living history" is much preferred. At NPS National Historic Battlefields, things are usually demonstrations. So, for example, artillery crews demonstrate artillery drill at Palo Alto in deep South Texas to explain to visitors how the "flying artillery" operated during the 8 May 1846 battle. Mexican soldados are on hand, civilian scouts or ranching people employed in one or another capacity, U.S. infantry and artillery, etc.

At Vicksburg, there is a Civil War-era fortification typical of those used, and some lads portray Louisiana Confederates, the handling of weapons and artillery, etc. in a live fire demonstration, albeit without projectiles.

At the Alamo, every first Saturday, there is a living history program with men and women portraying life and times in the 1830s in Mexican Texas and the Texas Revolution. Frequently, this is military themed. There are drills, firing demonstrations, etc., but also different crafts, music from the time period, etc. On the last weekend of September/ First weekend of October there is a "Cannon Fest" to remember and honor the "Come and Take It" Battle of Gonzalez where the Mexican Centralists attempted to re-claim, seize a gun from Anglo-Texian colonists, who responded in full Lexington/Concord mode, initiating the Texas Revolution 2 Oct. 1835. February 23 through March 6 is commemoration for the siege and battle of the Alamo, and this is a mix of living history and re-enactment events. So for example, this year towns people from Gonzalez arrived to re-enact the only reinforcements the garrison ever got: The so-called "32 immortals" who shared the fate of the rest of the defenders. None of these participants had any previous experience with living history or re-enactment. They were supplied with muskets from the Alamo, given some items of appropriate dress, and instructed for about half an hour to an hour with marching steps and weapons handling that would have been familiar to people of the time from militia musters. Then there was what I call a "reenactment," which is to say, living historians portraying the Alamo defenders cheered the arrival of the rangers as they marched in. Some events are literal "reenactments" such as the surrender of Martin Perfecto de Cos, and the "evening with heroes" event, in which living historians portray specific, identifiable persons doing one or another actual event as the siege enfolded.

How do you define "living history"?
(and roleplay and 1.person.. but they are less important)

Living history to me is when a person attempts to portray in some sense the lived experience of people in the past. One may be in "character" and attempting to act out a role, but perhaps is not an actual identifiable individual but more of an archetype. So, for example, at the Battle of Coleto Creek and the resultant massacre of surrendered Texians, I portrayed a hapless member of the Georgia Battalion formed in Macon, who went to Texas to fight against the dictator Antonio López de Santa Anna. But I was not an actual ancestor of mine, or an identifiable, really existing historical figure. Basically a mannequin that could talk and walk and load and fire a musket. The event itself included a "re-enactment" of the Battle of Coleto Creek, and a "re-enactment" of the surrender.

When I was in northern Sweden and Ostrobothnia, Finland, I visited outdoor museums that portrayed farm life in the 19th century. There were "living historians" who portrayed peasants and cobblers and tailors and so on that lived in the farm communities or homesteads. Some of them were straight-ahead characters, but because of the language barrier and the need to communicate with a foreigner (me) in English, they would basically switch to just patiently explaining one or another particular aspect of rural life that I found interesting or had a question about.

Are are you?
Employed at at museum/national park or similar

Essentially, a librarian, archivist. There is an exhibit space adjoining, and I do have to curate historic displays on a small scale every now and then.
Academic?
I was educated and trained as an academic, a historian of the 19th century. I worked in higher education for many years. Professional historians as a rule find living history and its proponents to be "antiquarians" of a particular and peculiar sort, and often dismiss it. I encountered colleagues early on who were willing to give it a try, and considered it to be yet another way of "teaching" other than lecturing or presenting their research. That is what initially drew me to it, frankly.
Reenactor
I do "living history" every now and then... Sometimes the late 19th century or golden age of the American Cowboy for groups that are coming by... Once as a WWI ambulance driver... But mostly Texian Army of the People or one or another Volunteer in the Texas Revolution. A lot of living historians interested in military history gravitate to Mexican portrayals because it is so Napoleonic and elaborate compared to the "mob" Jacksonian militia... Although some living historians do take great pains to perfect their "craft" and immerse themselves in an exacting portrayal.
I have done U.S. Army portrayals in the immediate pre-Secession period. I dress in Civil War uniform and equipment as part and parcel of participating in the shooting sport of skirmishing.
just interested in history and sometimes visit museums.
I am fascinated by history, and very frequently visit history museums, and also art museums and so on. I also try to attend living history events as a spectator and not only as a participant. I greatly enjoy travel, and inevitably a trip involves visiting historic sites, museums, etc. If I am on a long road trip, I will mark out places to visit along the way, including archaeological sites, points of interest, historic sites or markers, etc.
 

Yulie

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I am probably duplicating previous comments on this subject. I'm too lazy to find that previous post.

I am a follower of the standards set forth by National Association for Interpretation. I am not a reenactor but historical interpreter. I don't do impressions but instead historical interpretation based on primary and secondary resources (historical demonstrations). This may include first person, third-person or a narrative. The NAI has no definition for "impression" or "reenactment." I am a non-apologetic old-schooler who continues to cringe when people use "impression" when describing what they do.

For NAI definitions see: http://www.definitionsproject.com/definitions/index.cfm

Definition of Living History: An attempt to accurately replicate the past through the use of a physical environment and the sights, sounds, and smells of the period being represented. The two major types of interactive living history interpretation are first-person and third-person. General Information Source: Adapted from Association for Living History Farms and Museums.

NAI is at https://www.interpnet.com/NAI/interp/About/nai/_About/ABOUT.aspx?hkey=6f63cbdc-2744-4b3f-9983-27a9e4f93d4a

-Yulie
 
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