Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Forensic reenacting

As a reenactor, I appreciate reenacting on a higher level than what I actually do. The first-person interpretation at Appomattox is a great example of this for me. Part of the reason for this appreciation is that I'm a goal-oriented person. As I'm putting together my basic kit, I'm also thinking of what I'll be doing next, or what I can do to improve or push my impression further. With Civil War reenacting, I find it hard to think past a basic level; there are many paths to travel and no single focus.

On the event side, I've many times wished that event hosts would become more specific about what they envision, or simply have a vision in the first place. Do the research and then present it. But then again, I imagine it's difficult to find reenactors up to the challenge of matching in-depth research impression-wise. Realities aside, I've always wished better, and as I progress up the improvement path, I find that I tolerate some things less and less. When I've posted in the past, I find I've been none too subtle about what constitutes a good event in my ever-so-humble opinion.

But, some goals are realistic and I think will be the future salvation of this hobby. One concept I'll name, but probably has been kicked around awhile, is forensic reenacting. Although I can't imagine this concept being used for the larger events, but it is something that should be strived for on a smaller scale on historical sites. It entails researching a historical event and applying all usable research to recreate a well-rounded scenario and impressions. Research would be continuous, and application to the event scenarios and impressions theoretically would be on-going. The event would express all new findings from one year to the next.

One could argue that this happens in the hobby already. I do agree, but not very widely, and those events that have gone down this path seem have had to make certain concessions to attract the correct numbers of reenactors. Rich Mountain was one of these events, but despite concessions, it pushed the concept on a larger scale and seemed to been very successful. But what if more information was found and could be applied? Maybe the next time the impressions or the scenario could be further refined, and the authenticity bar raised. Civil War Historian magazine has been hitting a groove lately covering events that would have potential, or already engage in a form of forensic reenacting.

The concept of forensic reenacting could go as deep as one could possibly take it. As professional and amateur historians, this is what we should be doing anyway - creating a benchmark to strive for. Reenacting has always been for the most part too sloppy. In most battle reenactments, early mid- and late- war impressions look the same. No mind is paid to what everyone is wearing, and no real research is done. Battle tactics? The same. Camping? The same. No mind taken to what people actually did.

Ultimately, we're setting the hobby up for failure by leaning too heavily battle reenactments, and not paying mind to really researching and reenacting the smaller events in detail. On the whole, we don't create new reenacting frontiers, or are too quick to try and dispose. By doing this, we take away any freshness the hobby can have. Reenactors get bored. Has anyone tried to research and reenact prewar militia drill musters?

Part of the problem is that most battle reenactments take on a sameness, and reenactors on the whole settle for that. We look for other things to enjoy other than the battle reenactment, like reconnecting with comrades. Even that eventually becomes a reenacting dead-end when comrades start dropping out of the hobby. Deeply researching the history of an event creates value and freshness. Presenting an event as historically accurate as far as it is researched should be a point of value. Being able to come up with new research to apply creates freshness.

It's time to push the envelope.

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