With recent footage of the discovery of HMS Terror, I’m struck once again by the awesome responsibility we have as historical interpreters, and as Acastas. We represent men who left their lives behind to go to war for their King and Country, many of whom never returned home. It is my belief that our group should stand as a monument to those men.
I was first struck by this idea at the 200th anniversary of the Battle of New Orleans when we recreated a British Hospital. Our tent was a memorial to the men who were injured and killed during the battle like nowhere else at that particular event. I remember at the time being struck by what an awesome responsibility that was.
As a group, we show and teach in many different ways, be it our words, actions and even our clothing. As one of the largest Royal Naval reenactment units in North America, the eyes of the public are upon us… in person at events, on the web via our social media, and people trust that we are showing and teaching them correct history.
I’ve said it before, I'm a firm believer in research… and in theory ALL historical interpreters/re-enactors should be. It's the MOST important tool we have in our arsenal for showing the public what life was like in the past. Because, at the end of the day we're supposed to be displaying and depicting correct history, or at least as correct as we can make it… right? It is OUR job as historical interpreters/re-enactors to be as historically accurate as we can for the public.
Some years ago, I ran the Regency Society of Tennessee (RSATN), a group dedicated to remembering and preserving the history, culture and costume of the 1790-1820 time period. Through public and private costumed events, tours of historic sites, workshops and individual research, we endeavored to keep this fascinating time alive for ourselves and the public.
The RSATN didn’t have a strict dress code, we only asked one thing of those that wished to participate,
“Always be working”.
"How" you ask? Whether that meant working on your first person impression, working on improving your clothing, working on your knowledge of the period or working to bring ideas to the table for group events... we wanted to encourage our members to always be working on improving things for themselves and the group.
I understand that reenacting can be a costly pursuit, fabric, patterns, books and gear don’t come cheap. Almost no one is perfect when they attend their first event. The mandate to ‘Always be working” took this into account, allowing members to build up their impression over time.
But generally what ended up happening is they’d get fired up and make a change or two, then stop like the job was done. They’d ‘plateau’ in their impression if not urged to push forward.
‘Plateauing’ is something I’ve noticed with a lot of reenactors, they reach a certain point in their interpretation and they just stop like this is the 100 meter dash. They want to research really fast to get to the ‘end’ so they can be ‘done’.
I’ve got news for you kids, you’re never going to be ‘done’ researching and improving. There’s always more to learn, more to discover. New things are being found all the time, sometimes they serve to confirm what you’re doing and sometimes they will challenge or even prove what you’re doing is wrong… but history isn’t a 100 yard dash for the finish line so that you can go rest and never research again.
As an historical interpreters/re-enactor your job is correctly displaying and depicting correct history, or at least as correct as we can make it. If you’re not doing that, then you’re a costumer and you should confine your activities to cosplaying at comic and fantasy conventions and stay away from historically minded events, otherwise you end up confusing people who attend historical reenactments to get an educational and accurate glimpse of history.
No one is going to be 100% historically accurate, but if you KNOW better, let me beseech you to DO BETTER!
We owe it to the people that we represent to be as knowledgeable, accurate and correct as possible in all aspects of our interpretation. And in so doing, the skills, deeds and the people themselves live again in the minds of the public… and in ourselves.