The crazy mad rush that started in mid-February has finally come to a close and I have a little bit of time to catch my breath.
I just finished reviewing Philip Gerard's The Last Battleground: The Civil War Comes to North Carolina for H-CivWar and the review will hopefully be posted sometime this week. Follow H-CivWar on Twitter and you'll see it when it drops. Without spoiling the review, I'll say that you'll view this book depending upon how you approach it. I'll share the review on my social media (Twitter and Facebook) when it is published and you can read it for yourself.
This past weekend I participated in the annual "Fight for the Backcountry" program at Alamance Battleground State Historic Site near Burlington, NC. This is always a great event and there are always lots of folks I enjoy spending time with. They have an active Friends organization that, together with the site staff, is working to make this site even better. It's just an all-around good time when we do programs there.
Someone asked me a question at the Alamance event that, while I answered quickly, gave me pause to consider all weekend and even into this week. The question was "Are you a reenactor? Do you consider yourself to be a reenactor?" On the surface, it seems like an easy Yes/No question to answer, and in some ways it is, but in other ways it is much more complicated. My quick answer was "No, I do not consider myself a reenactor," and that is true, but again there's nuance to this that most folks who don't do this kind of thing wouldn't understand. They would think that anyone who goes to historic places, dresses in historic clothing, and does historic stuff is a reenactor. But there are so many levels to this for those of us who are either a) engaged in the hobby, b) work in the history field, or c) both, that it isn't always so cut-and-dried. Let me clarify further.....
If I did not work in this field, it is doubtful that I would be engaged in these types of activities. While I was a Junior Historian with our local historical society in Pennsylvania when I was a kid (we dressed in pseudo-historic clothing and gave house tours and did historic crafts) it wasn't until my first ever NC Historic Sites job as a seasonal interpreter at Fort Fisher that I ever even thought about participating in "reenacting." I became a first-person interpreter a few years later at Tryon Palace and that's when I started to get more serious about it because I was doing it every day. Finally, when I got my first full-time sites job at the CSS Neuse, I started "reenacting" more seriously. I put the word "reenacting" in quotation marks and I'll explain why next.
To me (and others) there is a big difference between "reenacting" and living history/costumed interpretation, but that's a whole other blog post. The bottom line is, I do what I do to help educate the public and hopefully teach them something about whatever part of the past I'm working in at the given moment. I do not do what I do to get some kind of "period rush" or for my own personal experience of what it was like "back then" or any kind of personal gratification. I feel safe in saying that most of the fine fellows in my group feel the same way. Over the past 20 years I've done a lot of things in this hobby. I've camped out in the coldest, hottest, and wettest conditions imaginable. I've visited some spectacular places and taken part in some really great programs. I've been emotionally moved on a few occasions. I've always tried to do things as correctly and properly as possible, but have never obsessed over every minute detail as some folks do (though I appreciate those who do and applaud them for their dedication). But in the end, I still say I am not a reenactor. I am an educator, I am an interpreter, I am a costumed interpreter, I am a demonstrator. I am many things, but in the end it all goes back to the public and what I am teaching or imparting to them.
If I left the world of historic sites/museums tomorrow would I still engage in this hobby? Probably, but selectively. I have many friends in the hobby, some of whom I consider as family. They are like brothers, sisters, cousins to me and I would still want to spend time with them. However, unlike 10-15 years ago when "reenacting" was the only hobby I really had, I now have other hobbies that interest me equally, if not more. As with anything else in life, you keep doing it until it isn't fun or rewarding anymore, then you have to decide whether or not to give it up. I'm nowhere near ready to give it up, but I also know that I am not a "reenactor" by some accounts, and I'm good with that.