Tuesday, May 11, 2010

The Engaged Visitor

Not that long ago me and the gang went down to Marching Through Time, a timeline event hosted at Marietta House in Glenn Dale, MD. It was the first timeline event I’ve ever participated in, and it was fascinating. I have tons of commentary, that I will probably spread over the next month by topic. I hope other folks find it as interesting to read as I found it to contemplate and write.

The point of us going was to network, not just with reenactors in general, but with folks who reenact the same stuff that we do. It was really interesting to see how another group does it. --We’ll have to get out to California at some point, I’d love to see their take on the Landknecht as well. And a trip to Europe at some point is a must, of course-- When we got to the event it felt very much like an event put on by reenactors, for reenactors. It was only open to the public from 11am to 4pm, which is an incredibly short amount of time to fit in all the demonstrations and to see all the different encampments. There was a reenactors mock battle on Sunday morning for which the public was not invited.

But the purpose of the event, according to the literature, was as a fundraiser for the historic property. As a fundraising professional I have to question the event’s efficacy based on the low visitor turnout. As an educator I was amazed at the level of engagement of the visitors that we did encounter.

Almost every member of the public who walked through our gate into the Landsknecht encampment seemed genuinely interested in what we were doing. Most of them had a handout with questions they could ask at each encampment, and the shortest interactions usually involved those who only came to ask the specific question. But there were a number of other interactions where the folks stuck around for quite a while, they asked in-depth questions, and got some of the more nuanced bits of history that we, as Landsknecht, deal with. They instantly got that we were experiencing the protestant reformation as it was happening, and how that influenced our views on Christianity. I’ve had more than one interaction where folks understood we were speaking from a 16th century perspective, but could not get it that there wasn’t a specific ideology called Lutheranism in the time when Luther was still formulating his opinions. People also asked good questions about the peasant rebellions: how did the peasants figure out how to form armies and fight? This was an awesome jumping off point for us because the peasant bands were often trained by former Landsknecht, and it gave us a chance to explain how pike formations are not that tough to learn, and pike are pretty easy to construct. We also got to talk about the nuances of being a fighting unit that was formed for the purposes of a single barony, but fought for the overall ruler of the Holy Roman Emperor, but only if they were paid; and they might be paid better by an enemy of the HRE and what that would mean as far as money and loyalty. There were more, I could go on, but the point is that these visitors were way more engaged than your average event visitor.

What I want to know is: where did Marietta House find all these incredibly interested visitors? Where did they advertise this event, and how did local folks who love history find out about MTT? Are people in the greater DC more interested in history (specifically obscure European history) than people in other regions? Or was it that since there were such a small group of visitors that it weeded out the casual visitor with only a passing interest, so the interactions we got were all higher caliber, even if we only got a few interactions per day?

 Next year I might have to get out of camp and ask some of the organizers and employees about the audience, how they find it and how it finds them.

Photo of a member of Das TeufelsAlpdrücken Fähnlein from Drifting Focus.

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