Thursday, June 30

6 Skills Our Forefathers Had That Reenactors Don't

It occured to me that there are a ton of skills that the people that we reenactors portray had that we, as modern people, just generally don't have much anymore. This isn't ALL reenactors of course, but it definately allies to ME and several other folks I know...



6.) COOKING
My idea of cooking is preheating the oven and getting something out of the freezer. Want a new respect for historic cooking? Take a look at the above video. We met the narrator of thisvideo over the summer whilst he cooked an amazing regency era meal outdoors, over a fire. It was awesome!

5.) HORSEBACK RIDING
When was the last time you had to get on a horse and go anywhere? For me, try 'never'. Do you ride your horse to work or school on a regular basis? Ever had to ride your horse to get your errands run? Our forefathers rode horses all the time, for almost everything. And when they weren't riding, they were...

4.) WALKING... EVERYWHERE!
You read historical accounts all the time about people who just got a notion in their head and walked from one state to another. As modern people we walk, some, usually for exercise purposes. When was the last time you walked with a mission, so that you could GET somewhere? 

I often hear of Lewis & Clark's expedition in 1803 compared to Mankind's first trip to the Moon, except Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin didn't have to WALK a bunch of the way to the moon.

3.) HOUSE BUILDING
I have an idea, let's go fetch an axe, a saw and a few other simple tools from the garage and go out in the woods and build a house from trees! Then, we're gonna live in it, no big deal.

2.) LETTER WRITING
Who does this anymore? Our forefathers wrote all the time, for work, for fun, to communicate over long distances, to state ideals and even forge nations. Theirs was a golden age of letter writing. And have you SEEN their handwriting? It's gorgeous! When was the last time you had to actually WRITE something with a pen, in CURSIVE? Cursive writing is considered of such little value these days, they barely teach it in schools anymore. And as far as modern writing, sure there are text messages, but when was the last time you texted anything that's going to change the shape of the nation or its inhabitants?
1.) FIRE MAKING
I've been an historical reenactor since 2001. In that time I've seen every period correct method (and few less-than-period methods) for making fire that you can think of, and my fire making skills are embarrassing. My attempts usually end with me on my hands and knees desperately blowing into a funny little kindling ziggurat while the cabin I'm in fills with ominous black smoke.

Have some suggestions for additions to this list? You KNOW I've left something off of here... leave YOUR ideas for everyone's enjoyment in the Comments section below this post.


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18 comments:

  1. Interesting thoughts on cooking. The early kitchens were places of power and towards the French Revolution a military operation. But I still say, the best sauce is hunger. Thanks for sharing again Doc.

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  2. Having looked at muster rolls, census documents and orderly books they didn't all have gorgeous hand writing. Even some that did only makes things worse because their flowing bold script and its flourishes over lap the lines of the document and run into each-other! I am sure it made for a beautiful letter but it creates an illegible official document!

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  3. I love letter-writing, but the price of stamps these days is exorbitant - one must needs have a couple of prizes to one's name to be able to do it on a regular basis.

    Added to your note on writing letters - what about using actual sealing-wax to seal them? That's an art in itself, and one my friend uses whenever she sends a letter or card anywhere.

    And building fires is a dying art, which is quite strange as there's something wondrous about sitting around a fire watching the flames. At a re-enactment event back in 2012, a friend and I spent the whole of the last night sitting and chatting around the fire - by the time we realised it was five o'clock, we decided there was very little point in going to bed for two hours. We're lucky in my unit, though, because a couple of us were taught how to lay and light a fire in the Guides (the UK equivalent of the Girl Scouts). They don't always want to light, even for us, though.

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    1. A good friend of mine regularly writes letters in proper 18th century fashion. He has worked out where the "safety zone" is, to prevent the seal catching on postal machinery. His one concession to modernity, is that, instead of actual sealing wax, he uses a glue gun with stick specifically designed for sealing. I've done a few lije this, myself.

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  4. One of my friends insists on writing all of his letters by hand and putting them in the mail. It's such a pleasure to receive them, although penmanship has never been his strongest suit.

    To add to your list: correctly executed handsewing. Many of us resort to the sewing machine for long inside seams that we want to be long-lasting and solid. That said, sewing machines become period-correct at a certain point -- that's a perk for reenactors of more recent eras.

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    1. OMG yes. My favourite period shirt is one I sewed entirely by hand because I didn't have a sewing machine at the time. It took me a good six weeks or so to do it, and I don't think I ever want to try that again; the seams were a proper pain in the neck.

      Having said that, I'm really proud of it, and don't just wear it for events. It looks pretty good with jeans!

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    2. I finished a shirt like that, in January:ENTIRELY hand-sewn, and I even carefully lined up the windowpane check oattern at the cuffs, to make tge pattern continuous: not an easy task, since the sleeve is gathered into the cuff! I only wear it for shore-goung or Sunday Divisions.

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  5. Good comments, all. I would add the fine art of washing/cleaning one's clothing and household. Without a machine. I have done it, and it's hard! Making soap from ash-lye and fats saved from the farm, heating the water, knowing which things to wash first, and which can wait for the slightly used water. And then to press, dry, and store things properly! I'm so glad I don't have to do that on a regular basis. And yes, people did go longer between washings, having their clothing brushed or spot cleaned, but there's still a lot of things to be cleaned in the house.
    Dishes, pots & pans, table and bed linens, carpets, chimneys, fireplaces....I get tired just thinking about it!

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  6. I worked at a living history site in Minnesota about 20 years ago. One of our directors was very keen on us being exposed to as many of these old skills as possible. So, we raised chickens, cows, sheep and hogs - all heirloom breeds. We collected the eggs, sheered the sheep, milked the cows and fed the hogs table scraps. Then we made butter, wool, fried chicken and pork. And yes, we did the butchering. I suppose a fair number of folks have cleaned a chicken, or game they have shot, but butchering a pig was an experience I'll never forget. And emotionally different from field dressing a deer. I never raised a deer, gave it a name, then shot it at point blank range with a Brown Bess. But it sure was some tasty pig!

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  7. Me again! Speaking of cooking... one member of our unit (who doesn't get to very many events, sadly, due to RL stuff) is an ex-Army chef who moved on to become second chef at the Kensington Hilton.

    And he can cook. While other folks are shivering around a forlorn pile of wood shavings, he's had the fire going for long enough to cook a full English breakfast - and everything is served up hot on the plate at the same time. Scrambled egg, fried bread, sausage, bacon, mushrooms. All done to a turn, all hot at once. The highlight of any event!

    I don't know if he'll make any events this year, but I really hope he does.

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  8. Nice content! The writing process enables concepts become more understandable to readers. It is further broken down as: pre-writing, writing, reviewing, revising and editing.letter writing

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  9. Horseback riding wasn't as common as most people think it was. Riding horses were luxuries and only those who could afford them had them and rode (upper middle-class/wealthy). Most people walked or rode on stage-coaches/wagons.

    Instead, I'd replace horseback riding with sewing. Everyone knew how to sew and made basic repairs to their clothes. Clothing was repaired and worn until it was rags. Sewing a button or mending a hem was something you'd do yourself (or if you were wealthy enough, get a servant to do it for you). People didn't send their clothes out to the local dry cleaners or seamstresses for basic repairs and alterations like we do today.

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    1. Oh Sewing! Why didn't I think of that? That's a great one, good call!

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  10. I still write letters as a 15 year old high school student. Proud of it.

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  11. MEMORY. The had amazing memories. IT was not uncommon to write down a whole plays or speeches after a single hearing. If one is illiterate, memory MUST be good; you just cannot jot down a note. To the literate, paper was still very expensive, so they had to remember whole lists of things.

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  12. Besides sewing, washing, and soap making - food preservation and storage is another one. Not just the need to raise or grow every bit of food you would eat from day-to-day but preserving/storing food through the winter months. When's the last time you saw some salting or smoking food to store? Not to mention the building of storage for the preserved food: cellars, smoke houses, spring houses, etc. Left on our own how many of us could make it through a winter without starving?

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  13. When I became a Scout, at the age of 11, I was the slowest hiker in the Troop, barely able to manage te 3 mph pace. A few years ago, I assumed I had managed to master that pace, until a phone app showed me tgat my standard hiking pace, even iver rough terrain, was 6 mph!

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  14. I, luckily, know all these skills and more, having grown up learning them. I prefer to ride a horse bareback style. Cooking over an open fire is second nature to me. I can write letters, but don't often at all now. I can build anything and still do. I used to walk everywhere I went, but I do less of it being 60 now. An interesting take on how much is lost. Some vices, such as smoking have disappeared at events but drinking is still as strong as ever!

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