I don’t live in the past—I only visit—and so can you!


“Farb” is the term used in living history to describe anything that is not historically accurate. It was originally used in American Civil War reenacting in the 1960s, but there is debate about how the term came about. There re several good articles talking about it, including Jonah Begone’s “Who was the Founding Father of Farb?”  and Kathleen Smith’s “An Introduction to Farby.”

In the decades since its origin, it has proven its worth and been adopted by most other eras of living history in the United States and abroad, and we became acquainted with the term in the 1980s in RevWar reenacting and have used it in Micel Folcland since the founding.

Farb is, in many cases, anti-educational. As Smith notes: “Can you choose a book by its cover? Do first impressions really matter? Hard-core…reenactors will answer: you can and they do. Reenactors, regardless of what period they choose to reenact, have to be very mindful of how they are perceived, not only by the public, but by their fellow reenactors as well.” However, in another sense, farb can be very educational. It can teach the reenactor what not to create, wear or approve.

What we have discovered is that compiling instances and cases of farb as a scrap book—called the Bok of Pharb—can be an illuminating experience for a viewer. With that in mind, we have compiled a Book of Farb, in which we have assembled photographs that are readily available on the internet that exemplify what the member should avoid. A good many are illustrations taken from such festivities as Up Helly Aa  that make no pretense of being accurate, from LARP organizations, whose accuracy is not required and when it occurs is merely incidental, and, most disturbingly, from societies which brag about their accuracy but whose standards fall sadly short.

It should be noted and understood in this last example that farbiness is not permanent by any means. Accuracy in living history is an evolutionary matter. As people learn more, their level of farbiness can diminish. It is not expected that anyone is perfect (especially at the beginning of their living-history experience) or that what was considered normal at one point will later be avoided. It is expected that a reenactor—a good reenactor at least—will not backslide and go from a good to a more farby interpretation. Because of this, the faces of the individuals are blacked out; we are not trying to castigate the individual and full realize—even expect—that this individual will get better in the future. As if to prove this point beyond all doubt, we have included photos from our own reenactments, showing what is wrong and what has now been corrected!

Some of the farbiness is obvious. Some of it is overwhelming. Some might be just one anachronism in the midst of everything else that is accurate. Some of the inaccuracies are very subtle, The persons who are looking at it must think and must use what they have learned in their own impressions. And hopefully, they will return to their accumulation of kit with a new wisdom and perspective.

I should not here that farbiness, especially for our era, is not universal. Interpretations might differ and still be legitimate, and the interpretation might be incorrect for what our society’s regulations call for, while they are legitimate for those of another society. If you or your society assembles a Book of Farb, you should no only make certain that it follows your society’s accuracy regs but not apologize for its interpretation!

While the accumulation of a Book of Farb is, unfortunately, quite easy and educational, it might be seen as negative. For that reason, we have accumulated a second volume, a collection of correct interpretations. It is called, in our instance, What Dreams are Made Of (a reference to one of my favorite Humphrey Bogart films). Its compilation was much more difficult, to be certain, but the result is much happier and affirmative. Faces are not blacked out, of course, and we hope that seeing what is possible will encourage and guide readers, not discourage them with thoughts that they will never be good! Especially because, if they are dedicated enough, they no doubt will be!

While not dealing specifically with accumulating examples of what is wrong and what is right in historical reenacting, Kelsey at “Historically Speaking” has written a very thought-provoking essay on “Things I Wish Reenactors Would Stop/Start Doing.” While I do not agree with everything she says, I agree with a lot and appreciate everything that she says. You might as well!

2 responses

  1. Nathan

    .. would we happen to have links to these books of Farb and Dreams?

    June 3, 2013 at 21:24

    • They are intended for use inside my unit since I don’t have permission to reprint them for public dissemination, Sorry.

      June 3, 2013 at 21:40

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