Over this past weekend, I was browsing through some of the blogs that I follow and I ran across a post by Grant Oster on his Hankering for History blog. In his post, Grant was bemoaning the lack of respect that the public has for historians and complained that they often view them as reenactors / living history practitioners.
I am not going to get into a huge discussion of the fact that Living History is a part of a the branch of History known as “Public History”. Also that many reenactors/living history practitioners are working closely with professional historians to make sure that what they present is historically accurate, or that reenactors/living history practitioners have professionally published some very high quality research recently.
One of the things that struck me about Grant’s post was the clip from the TV show “Desperate Housewives” that he included:
There are those in our community who do seem to forget that, when it comes to public events, or anytime we are appearing or interacting with the public, we are ambassadors of “public history.” Unfortunately, I have too often heard reenactors say that they are doing this for their own reasons and they do not really care if the public likes it or not. We need to remember that the many reenactments and other public events where we appear would not exist if it were not for the public. Many of these events are paid for by the public, through admissions, or taxes (for government-supported sites) and without that public support, those events would go away.
Even at private events on public land, such as what seems to be happening in the clip. We can run into members of the public and must remember that how we deal with them, even when they are wrong to be there, reflects on the entire living history community. Can you imagine the impact the encounter you see in the video, and the way the “douche” treated the couple, might affect future use of that park if the man or woman was in a position to influence policy or funding for the park? The actions of that one “Confederate Officer” could cause the entire living history community to lose the use of that facility in the future.
As living history practitioners, we have a lot to offer to the communities where we live, work, and play. If we are going to be effective however, we need to keep in mind that it is not about us. To remind us what we, as reenactors/living history practitioners have to focus on I always paraphrase a famous campaign slogan, “It’s the Public Stupid!”