Is There Value In Historical Reenactments?


History is something that tends to get distorted as time goes by. We may read about history in textbooks or perhaps even watch movies on the subject, but we rarely ever get the entire picture. Many people ask reenactors why are historical reenactments important.

Historical reenactments provide real value to those who want to know more about any event in history. They often focus on pivotal battles that changed the course of history for one or more countries and groups of people. They are beneficial because they provide more than what history books can provide.

D-Day Conneaut reenactment
America’s Biggest WWII Reenactment – D-Day Conneaut with over 25,000 visitors each year. Source: www.worldwarwings.com from Media Maker/YouTube

Without an accurate understanding of history, we would quickly lose who we were as a people. It doesn’t matter what nation we are under or what group of people we side ourselves with, we have a history that needs to be told and understood.

The problem is, history books are not always as accurate as they should be when it comes to the event that took place. In addition, they are limited because you are looking at something on paper.

Gettysburg Civil War battle
Gettysburg Civil War battle on painting (source: www.history.com) and in reenactment (source: www.tribpub.com)

Admittedly, there are some excellent pictures and artwork that revolve around a lot of historical events. They still are limited, however, in what they offer so historical reenactments fill in the gaps. In fact, you might say that history books fill in the gaps of reenactments.

Are historical reenactments accurate?

There are many people who attend historical reenactments that ask if they have any accuracy to them. That is a good question because it really depends upon the reenactment and what is put into them.

how authentic can reenactment be
Can reenactors be authentic, poll results from “The Value of Experience: Lessons from a Study of Reenactment”. Source: Samantha Hartford, EXARC Journal Issue 2016/1; www.exarc.net

In some cases, a historical reenactment may not have anything to do with accuracy. They may even involve a degree of fantasy, as is the case with larping. You couldn’t put much weight and what that type of event was portraying.

In addition, there are times when specific elements out of the historical reenactment may not be as accurate as they should be. This can be due to a number of different factors, including the following.

  1. Location – The location of the event is perhaps one of the more important factors associated with the accuracy of a historical reenactment. After all, you are looking at the event as a bystander, almost as if you were there in person when it took place originally.
Locust Grove confederate reenactors
Some historic battle sites have been compromised by modern development. Locust Grove, Va. – confederate reenactors pose at the Germanna Heights apartments. Source: www.time.com, Gregg Segal

There are times when it is not possible to hold a reenactment in the same location where it originally occurred. In addition, there may be times when they are held at the right location but it has changed considerably over the course of time. This can reduce the accuracy, but there are ways to overcome it.

  1. Understanding – It is important for anyone who takes part in a historical reenactment to understand what they are doing and portraying. Many people throw themselves into the part, so to speak, and understand enough about the event that they could speak on it with authority.

Unfortunately, many of the people who volunteer to take part in a historical reenactment are not going to fully understand what they are portraying. They may look the part by wearing a uniform or carrying an authentic weapon, but if you were to ask them about it, they wouldn’t understand it.

Reenactors' education materials civil war
Reenactors’ education is important – an illustration from 1895 showing the uniforms worn by Union and Confederate soldiers. Source: www.www.atlasobscura.com

That is why it is important for everyone involved in the historical reenactment to have at least a basic understanding of what they are doing. There are some who may be more open to the public and questions, but all people who take part in them should learn as much as they can.

Reenacting goes beyond the textbook

Another benefit of a historical reenactment is the fact that it shows more than what a textbook can show. In addition, and may actually go beyond what the textbook is trying to describe.

In some cases, an event may be portrayed that is not fully covered in historical textbooks. Even school textbooks may not cover the subject or it may be slanted to a certain extent, depending upon where the information is written and read.

renactment Battle of Mississinewa
Forgotten by many – Battle of Mississinewa, in the War of 1812. Source: www.usatoday.com

In addition, there may be cases in which there are not many pictures on the subject. For example, the American Civil War has some pictures but they are few and far between. Going even further back in time, you would have to rely on an artist’s painting.

There is no doubt that history is slanted to fit the needs of those who are reading and writing about it. That is especially true when it comes to major battles in which a victory shaped the course of a nation.

The history books in one nation to another may give what they feel is an accurate portrayal of the event but it is often slanted to speak to the person and the location where they are reading it.

Finally, archaeology is often a very important part of any historical event. That is especially true if you’re going back hundreds or perhaps even thousands of years.

merging archeology and reenactment
Merging archeology and reenactment – International Experimental Archeology Festival “Days of Live Archeology in Kernavė”. Source: www.walkablevilnius.com

Historical reenactments help to bring what archaeologists have found to life. They may even have to change certain elements of the reenactment in order to stay as accurate as possible.

Historical reenactments help people to feel reality

Many historical events have been romanticized over the years. Some of the facts may be the same and could be fairly accurate, but the way they are portrayed is not always as accurate as it could be.

As a result of things changing over the years as history is written and rewritten, the idea of the truth may become skewed. It can be difficult to learn as much as you should be learning about the truthfulness of those situations when you only read about it in a textbook.

daily routine of Roman troops
The daily routine of Roman troops in reenactment. Source: www.hisour.com

Historical reenactments allow people to feel the reality of the situation. It is one thing to read about it and another to watch it in a movie but when you are actually standing on the battlefield and watching it happen in front of you, it helps you to understand even better.

The people at the event can help build understanding of history

When individuals take part in a historical reenactment, they are actually taking part in history itself. They will often dress the part and may carry weapons that are associated with the event.

Many of the people who take part in these reenactments are volunteers but they still do what they can to have high-quality equipment and costumes. When that is the case, then it is possible to have higher-quality conversations with the people who are in attendance.

volunteers in historical reenactment group
Volunteers in historical reenactment group – “Crossroads of the American Revolution”. Source: www.revolutionarynj.org

That is also a reason why the people who volunteer for these events should be as knowledgeable as possible about their craft. The more they understand about the event they are portraying, the more likely they will portray it in a way that does it justice.

Living history is something that is available to everyone. It is also something that we can continue to pass on to others over the course of time.

17th Century Living History Village
17th Century Living History Village. Source: www.littlewoodham.org.uk

The information may have been written in a book but most people are not going to read about it unless it is of personal interest to them.

In addition, even those who understand and read about history may not take the time to ponder over it and fully understand everything they are reading.

Historical reenactments provide an easy and enjoyable way for us to understand everything possible about the event itself. It provides fun for everyone, including those who are taking part in the event and those who are standing on the sidelines.

If you would like to know more on how to become a reenactor, check our article – 5 Easy Steps to Start Reenactment as Your Hobby.

ReenactmentGuide

Group of reenactment passionates, writing for people looking to start an adventure with historical reenactment and struggling to find valuable and actual information.

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