February 28, 2012

When Reenacting Gets Too Real: Racism and Descrimination

This is going to be the first of a series of posts about some of the more difficult issues in reenacting. 

When it comes to our clothing, we claim that we must do it right. After all, we claim, it is our responsibility to portray the wartime as authentically as possible. But what happens when it comes to the parts of 19th century reality that we'd rather forget? Is it our responsibility to go against our morals to portray something so horrific as slavery? Civil War reenactments are severely lacking in African American reenactors. Spectators are quick to point out the absence of enslaved peoples but reenactments also leave out the mass numbers of African Americans who worked as laborers, teamsters, servants and cooks. But what about those who do come out? Are period appropriate interactions, inappropriate today? Should reenactors have to act in defiance of their modern day beliefs?

Many period terms are offensive to us today. In addition to period words that are considered racist today, there are many offensive descriptors that were acceptable at one time. It seems cruel, but words like "dumb," "lame," and "imbecile," referred to medical conditions. Gay could mean happy or be a euphemism for prostitutes. Is using these words part of the authenticity we owe to the public? Are "period" racism and discrimination something we should incorporate?  Should women portraying "prostitutes" or the poor not get an invite to the ball? Should stripes on a coat really mean something? Should the Irish Brigade have derogatory names thrown at them?

I have never witnessed "period racism," but I have encountered real, modern-day racism. There are some people who somehow think that everyone in the south was racist and a supporter of slavery. They also think that everyone in the north was an abolitionist or somehow more enlightened than their southern counterparts. This type of thinking is juvenile at best and shows little understanding of the complex social and economic roots of the problems of the time period. Many  people also don't notice the "actor" in reenactor and falsely accuse Confederate reenactors of racism. They don't understand that reenactors portray people of the past and our real views are very different from the views we may portray.  Will "period discrimination" enforce these falsehoods?

I do not believe that "period" racism or other modernly derogatory comments should be used, unless all parties involved are in agreement about it and the moment is used as a "teaching moment." Someone should be available to explain to the public that "dumb" meant mute or "Uncle," was a common greeting for a white southern girl to an African American man. I also believe that the age group of the spectators is also very important, what is appropriate for a group of highschoolers is probably not appropriate for for primary school children. Everyone deserves to have a good time at a reenactment and real racism should not be a part of it.

Please read Ken's fantastic post about this topic An Interesting Perspective on Authentic Reenacting.

I would love to hear everyone's thoughtful comments. This is a difficult thing to discuss and there probably isn't any right answers. It would be very interesting to see what everyone's thoughts on the matter are.      

February 23, 2012

Anne of Green Gables Inspired Music Video

When things get tough, revisit your childhood favorites. :D This song isn't very new but I just saw the music video for it, which is highly influenced by the Anne of Green Gables sinking skiff scene! Always a favorite play scene of young girls. It's an obvious tribute right down to the book of Tennyson's poetry, she is holding. Spring is almost here and summer is coming, which always makes me revisit Anne of Green Gables in one way or another.   

"She has heard a whisper say,
A curse is on her if she stay
To look down to Camelot.
She knows not what the curse may be,
And so she weaveth steadily,
And little other care hath she,
The Lady of Shalott." -The Lady of Shalott

The occasional spring weather we've been having has been depressing me as I look out the window, textbook in hand. I've been planning my garden in the margins of my school notes. I've been watching the wildlife in the morning, to figure out the best way to put things to keep the critters out. The little chipmunks are burrowing, the squirrels have emerged from their quasi-hibernation much more plump than they should be, and I even saw a piebald deer rooting through the twigs. I can't wait to be able to spend a lot of time outside!   

February 18, 2012

There's a Word for That: Presentism

 "presentism /'prezen,tizəm/ n. uncritical adherence to present-day attitudes, esp. the tendency to interpret past events in terms of modern values and concepts." -The New Oxford American Dictionary

This is a relatively new word to me although I have long noted the existence of this phenomenon in the history field. This kind of viewpoint is often shown when discussing the more gruesome parts of history such as slavery, the oppression of women, styles of warfare, and daily life choices.

In the history field, we constantly hear "I would never do that!" But, it is far more complicated than that. Just like many of us would not harbor a fugitive today, many people understood the real 1800s risks of harboring a fugitive slave.

Today, very few of us would let a doctor operate on us with the fresh blood of another patient on his arms and apron or squeeze their internal organs to get a tiny waist.     

 Information and knowledge builds upon existing knowledge, things that are obvious to us or "common knowledge" may not have been to people in the past. Today, every child knows that germs can make you sick and that washing your hands can keep you safe. Three-hundred  years ago the technology to prove the existence of germs didn't exist. People responded to the modern scientific and medical information at their disposal.

 People in the past were not any less intelligent than people today. In 300 years, schoolchildren everywhere will laugh at the stupidity and ignorance of the inhabitants of 2012. You cannot judge people of the past by modern standards, values or ideas, you can only try to understand them through the lens of the time period in which they lived. Many people fall into this trap but study can help create a fuller understanding of the people of the past, what motivated them, and their experiences.      

February 13, 2012

Valentine's Day Card Patterns from 1911

It's that time of year again! I think we should bring back a Valentine's Day tradition that has largely been lost. Cards have been generally given by admirers on Valentine's Day since the 1700s, but they used to be anonymous! Imagine the fun! I am also a huge fan of homemade cards.

These patterns and cards are from a book entitled "Suggestions for Handwork in School and at Home" published in 1911. The templates were designed to be cut out of colored paper and affixed to cards or cut out and used as templates for paint. There are also some cute sayings and poems. 

Check out my other Valentine's Day Posts:

-Valentine's Day Cards : A short history of Valentine's Day cards and come old fashioned cards to send people.

-The Language of Flowers: The meanings of flowers taken from a book from 1856.

Think about sending a homemade card to someone you love. Better yet, make it anonymous.

February 7, 2012

Volunteer for CWT's Park Day!

March 31st is the Civil War Trust's Park Day where volunteers help clean and fix up battlefields and other historic sites.


Some of the big battlefields will  be participating, such as Cedar Creek, Antietam and Gettysburg but there are a lot of smaller sites participating too. Pennsylvania only has two participating sites but Virginia and Tennessee have a lot participating.

This really is a great time to help out your favorite site, especially since many sites are significantly underfunded. Each site has different jobs to be done from landscaping and cleaning to locating and identifying graves.

 A lot of visitors really does take its toll on historic sites. The sites really do appreciate having a lot of extra hands to do work that needs to be done. You can bring tons of friends and make a really fun day of it.  

Anyone planning on participating?

February 3, 2012

Civil War Boy's Jacket Pattern from Godey's Lady's Book

When I went to Antietam, the museum there had a tiny Zouave jacket worn by a musician during the battle. It has fabric covered decorative buttons on the red patterns and was sewn with white thread.The coat was small, it was almost sad to think about the boy wearing it.

I found a very similar jacket pattern in Godey's and wanted to offer the pattern to my readers with children. 

I was going to wait to post this until I had it drafted to correct shape and proportions but school has been extremely busy again and it doesn't seem like I'll have a chance to do it for a while. So far I have the back proportioned out correctly but am working on making the front armholes a comfortable curve. My drafting skills are terrible so I am sure someone else could have this drawn out quickly.  

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