February 5, 2020

Who Decides What History to Tell and Who Gets to Tell It?

It's a rumor that I hate "Progressives." I have a deep respect for reenactors and their craft. I ogle over the small details people put into their impressions. I gush over the sewing projects. I squeal over their pictures. I have my own standards for myself, higher than some reenactor's standards and lower than other's. The standards I hold for myself are not the standards I hold for others.

Everyone is free to have their own standards but I am appalled at the people who take their standard as a reason to harass others. Yes, it is harassment. Yes, it's real harassment even if it's "just online."

Reenacting, is experiencing a common museum problem. Who decides what history to tell and who gets to tell it? For a long time, museums were by the wealthy, for the wealthy. Later, museums started to cater to the middle class and explored the lifestyle of the "common man." But something was still missing. Museums have started exploring untold history- history from the perspective of the previously unrepresented. How to represent all voices in a respectful and meaningful way is complex problem in many museums. Many are asking "How do we decolonize this?"

Who has the privilege of telling our history at events?

People who:  

- Have or can get weekends off from work/family duties.
- Can afford to work for free. 
- Have vehicles and gas money to get to and from events.
- Have money for expensive gear.
I'm not interested in anyone's opinions about what is "affordable" as that is highly individual. The truth is, we all know that handmade, bespoke garments are pricier than a lot of our regular clothes. Yes there are ways to make it cheaper if you have the good fortune to be able to sew and have the time and resources to do so.)
- Are physically capable. Reenacting is demanding, and many historical sites and event spaces are not designed to host a variety of needs.
I could dedicate a whole blog post just to this and might in the future. I have seen people harassed for their age, size, and physical limitations. I've seen people mocked for their walker, wheelchair, glasses, their inability to walk long distances or sleep on the ground etc.   
- Are accepted by peers. Antisocial behavior should not be accepted. Discrimination is not acceptable.

- Feel safe. 
You might laugh at this but I know people who stopped coming to events because they encountered harassment, physical/ sexual assault, and stalking. There are also many disenfranchised people who are bullied out of sharing their viewpoints or personal experiences.

There are many people who are excluded. How can high standards be bad? The higher the standards, the higher the barrier to entry for disenfranchised people. The higher the barriers to entry the better chance we will end up with an old fashioned, one perspective, "by the wealthy for the wealthy" display and that is a disservice to everyone.

I am not a proponent of "bad history" and believe me, I've seen a lot of bad history. I only ask that people live and let live on things that are not a safety issue or life and death matter. Your standards are your standards and their standards are theirs. Teach from your example. Be passionate about accessible history. Recognize the privilege you have to be able to tell history.

We should not be working to silence people, we should be working to help people better interpret history. We should be teaching others how to research. We should be talking more about what an interpretation is and what it isn't. We should be refining the other areas of our craft that go beyond the material.   



  1. YES! This is so important. I would be interested in reading a blog post about ableism in the reenacting community if you write that in the future!


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