SEVEN TIPS FOR GAINING MORE FROM YOUR VISIT TO THE PAST THAN YOU MIGHT OTHERWISE
We dress in historic costume. We attempt to do things as accurately to the period as we can without endangering ourselves or you. We are not time travelers or visitors from another time. We do not live in some kind of Amish community. We do not live in the past, and we appreciate the many aspects of modern technology that has made life better and safer and many times more satisfying.
But we like to pretend that we live in a culture that no longer exists, and we stand ready to share information with you how life was lived at that time. We stand ready to educate and to entertain you, and we are so very willing and able to answer your questions about the time, about the culture and about the items that we have on display. Feel free to ask and to interact, and here are a few tips for how to gain the most from speaking with us!
Just remember: There are no foolish questions. The only foolish question is one that is left unsaid!
1 Embrace the Unknown
When you visit our encampment, you are not traveling to your past. You are traveling to another country! For the past is another country. Like any foreign land, you might travel to, it is natural to have some assumptions about what it is like. Your assumptions may come from your high school history class or what you heard from a friend or a novel on historical romance or a film or teevee series. Unfortunately, what you have been told, what you have seen and what you have read is not necessarily all the truth and may even be fantasy or misinterpretation. We encourage you to bring your natural curiosity and be prepared to enlarge or revise your thinking!
2 Put the Screen Down
It is difficult to immerse yourself in the tenth century if there is a screen between you and the encampment and the reenactors. Do not let yourself get distracted taking photos or texting. There will be plenty of opportunities to pull out your phone or camera, but you will have more fun if you set them aside for at least a little bit. Remember, we are not just models for vacation pictures, we want to talk to you.
Do not be afraid to speak in modern English. Do not try to pretend that you are something you are not. Do not think that we can only talk about the time period and culture we portray and cannot put things into focus, talking about things that created this culture and what was later created from it. There is much of the culture that remains today, that is still important or that helped form it. We find it fascinating to put the culture into proper focus for us and you today!
3 Start a Conversation on the Right Foot
Ask difficult questions if that is what you want know, and do not feel bad. If we do not know the Answer—and that will happen, often more frequently than we would like it to happen—we will admit the ignorance, direct you to persons or other things that may answer them and discuss theories and probabilities with you. History is often not a set of dry and unchanging facts. It is often the interpretation of these facts, and it will often change because of perspective, because of new facts and because of reinterpretations of old facts. Some disdain this as revisionist history, and perhaps it is. However, it is not a terrible thing but a part of the evolution of understanding. Remember that what you hear today might well change in the future and is not the end of comment on the matter. Be amendable to change; remember that the objects discovered in the Staffordshire Hoard a few years ago changed much of what we thought and knew about earlier life.
Begin a conversation just like you would with any stranger: exchange small talk. Share some pleasantries. Just say Good Day, ask how they are doing, or where they are from. Comment on the weather. But do not be hesitant to ask questions.
Some guests hesitate, especially in potentially sensitive situations such as slavery or prejudices or massacres or religious intolerance. These are all parts of the past and are important to the construction of how we view the past. Unless it is relevant, we will not speak on modern politics or religion. We are very consciously apolitical and religious.
Just say hello, remember that simply being polite goes a long way.
4 Let Your Guard down
Do not be frightened or intimidated by our costumes or our tools or that sword that is always nearby. Let go of the present and go into the moment—even if that moment is a thousand years ago.
Reenactors sometimes think of themselves as “playful scholars,” people who are deeply committed to conveying their passions to you but find it amusing and entertaining and who hope to pass these feelings on to you. Every reenactor has different interests and expertise, and no single reenactor will know everything. The reenactor will very happily refer you to another reenactor who might be able to answer your question, so you should not feel bad or hesitant. As we said, immerse yourself in the past, and feel free to ask questions of interest.
Play the game by letting us be your guide. Bring your own perspective. We will meet you wherever you want, help you be whomever you want and —hopefully—answer any questions you might have.
5 Ask Us Anything
You do not have to ask us about the fate of Vikings or the Englisc or anything else that is deemed important. Ask us trivial questions about the tools we use. Ask us about how clothing was constructed, how we worshiped our deities, how we made money (literally) and how we made so much of what you see. Ask me how I met our mates, about our children, about our friends (or enemies) and even about our pets and other animals. Ask about anything that might have been important in the culture we seek to recreate.
We are all afraid of feeling dumb sometimes. But remember when your high school teachers insisted there are no dumb questions. Even if you never believed them, you can believe that here.
We know that many of our guests have little frame of reference for a tenth-century world, and that means that sometimes they have to take a risk to make a connection. But we know that you are calling up whatever frame of reference you have and trying to make connections. And we appreciate it! So start with something simple, and work your way toward deeper questions. Do not be afraid to ask hard questions, since they will probably lead to an interesting conversation in any case.
6 Say Yes
We will go out of our way to say hello, to greet you and to draw you in. We might ask if you have any questions— we know you probably will and do not want you to hesitate asking them—and if we offer you a brochure that explains what we are trying to do or ask you a question or ask you to join us in a conversation or in a game or just to hold something, say yes. Trust us, and we promise not ne dangerous or will make you look foolish.
We are not trying to trick anyone, so believe our sincerity in helping you make the leap back in time. We appreciate the effort and will help you all that we can!
When you are watching us, we are watching you at the same time. We will not force you to do something you do not want to do, and we generally know when to leave you alone. In the end, we certainly respect you for choosing to spend your time visiting us.
7 Make Connections
It is not merely acceptable but encouraged to talk to any reenactor more than once during the day. We are not following a script, and we are not so absorbed in our own conversations that we will ignore you. Feel free to speak to us, even interrupt us if we are talking with a mate. You can feel free to come back and see us again, to continue a discussion, to ask a follow-up question, or to get another picture. You might be surprised that we remember you!
As you meet people during the day, try to put some of the historical pieces together. Make connections by figuring out how we relate to each other and how we might have related to the very world at that timer.
Have fun connecting the dots.
Inspired by “How to Talk to a Costumed Interpreter in 7 Easy Steps” by Bill Sullivan, published by Colonial Williamsburg