THE PHYSICAL WORLD OF THE PAST
It struck me today: If I was not doing living history, what would I be doing?
And the answer came nearly as quickly: I simply cannot imagine not doing living history of some type. I might move from one aspect—read society—to another because of politics, because of standards—or lack thereof—or because of interests—I should point out that I love Regia Anglorum, though, and it fulfills my needs very very capably—but I would find it unable to step away from living history. I study it. I discuss it. I breath it. I am surrounded by reminders. When I am not actually doing it—at events, either as a participant or as a spectator—I am doing research into things that will enable me and others to do better impressions.
Not fancy bling, not clean and sparkling clothing, not extraordinary furniture and not undocumented but convenient assumptions. Fantasy-driven cosplay simply does not interest me. It is the sum of the mundane, everyday life of some time in the past that fascinates me. Research into, attaining and maintenance of a realistic environment are essential to me if the experience is supposed to satisfy me. Any anachronisms—humorous or not—only spoil the illusion. Cinematic accuracy and not playing to details—both large and small—can be frustrating and totally disruptive. Role-playing games, fantasy titles and excessive society-protecting bureaucracy is only slightly more pleasurable to me than taking an eight-pound hammer and smashing my hand!
Now, of course, I wear historical clothing while creating that environment—that is essential to the environment. That is not the reason that I do it. That is not among the reasons that I became so interested during the ACW Centennial in the 1960s. The reasons were the little things. They still are. Those physical tokens of the past: It does not matter if they are reproductions or exact re-creation or authentic. They set my heart to pattering and puts a smile on my face. Knowing the histories of notable, famous and extraordinary men does not appeal to me as much as the histories of the common man. I collected maps, charts, books, kepis, coins, all the small bric-à-brac that gave me an idea—and a feel—about the past. My roots as a reenactor stems from those days, when I collected the ephemera of living in the past, and dressed—with the help of my grandmother—in the fashions of an earlier time to play with the items collected but did not realize that this was living history. But I liked it, wanted to do it and got involved in it as soon as I could.
Of course, I was not a good reenactor in those days. Research was watching a film. Academic books were generally left un-consulted. Old and outdated books were accepted uncritically. Polyester was as good as wool. Aluminum was a suitable substitute for more precious period metals. WFA-sized belts, over-sized bling and anything black were cool, dude! Suede, plywood and cotton were natural fabrics and so perfectly legitimate to use when I became a little more critical and discerning. I still had much to learn, both individual facts and how to find them, and my approach gradually changed. I was embarrassed by my earlier philosophy and earlier attempts, but living history is an evolutionary process. It just took a while for me to realize this and even longer to accept this.
Today, I’m better. My clothing is more accurate, I think, though I am still working on designs to make them still better (ie, more accurate, since that is my goal). They are worn and are lived in; they are ordinary work clothes, neither a Hollywood costume nor the cosplay attempt preferred by at least one society. I am surrounded by accurate reproductions of furniture from the age, of tools from the age, of actual artifacts from the age. I trust I will get better, that I will learn more and that what I think I know will be altered.
But I know—know—that my interest in living history is not going away!