Friday, June 18, 2010

First Person Blogs

Some blog entries are easy to write. Others, for no particular reason, I agonize over and the writing just comes out all stilted and weird. This is one of those posts. I am determined to put it up though! So here goes:

Among all my blog searches, rss feeds, and quest for all things Living History related on the internet I come across some beauties every once in a while. Today I want to tell you about blogs from the first person perspective. Yup, blogs written as if they were in a different time, far removed from our own. There are basically two different styles these blogs can take: actual historical text, just digitized in blog form; or reenactors and modern folks writing as if they were a historical character.

Historical texts
Every day I learn about more and more primary source material that is being digitized and made available on the web. Most of these are in archives or library collections, but some of them --particularly those that were written as diary entries in the first place-- are put up bit by bit, blog-style. A blog that I have been enjoying written by "Two Nerdy History Girls" had a post that contains a good list to be starting with here check the comments of this post  too, tons more are mentioned.

Modern Interpretations
There are a few reenactors out there that are writing blogs from the perspective of the persona they are portraying. My favorite is this colonial impression and this later impression, of a doctor both done by the same individual. He wavers between totally history based posts, and some the wink at the current era, but I find he does a great job balancing both.

There are a few blogs that I’m not sure if the writers are reenactors, or what their relationship is to the history they are writing about this Mozart blog is a bit of a mystery to me, but still fascinating. A now solved mystery is about the author of Geoffrey Chaucer Hath a Blog in fact, there was so much mystery and hype about that blog, that a bunch of medieval scholars have written a book about it! I have not yet read the book, but it is on my Amazon wish list!
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Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Early Inspirations

As a senior in high school and my first few years of college I did not do much with history. Distracted by grades and friends, I did some of the normal teenage things, but I still dabbled in the historical arts. I took classes in the history of science, which seemed the most engaging and interesting way to study history (high school and Freshman hist. classes are not, generally the most riveting classes.) I still did class projects that involved my own historical interpretations – dressing up as Marie Antoinette, and writing a Hesiod style epic poem on Pandora, with a feminist twist.

And, while working at a local bookstore I picked up a notecard with a painting on it. A painting called “The Shepherdess", that seemed to me to leap off the card and speak to me about a girl and about a place and time in history. I knew enough even then to realize that the painting the notecard depicted was a Victorian representation of a much older time, but I still loved the image. I wanted to step into the image. Even if the girl was only wearing a costume of an older time, well that was exactly what I wanted to do. I wanted to wear that costume. I wanted to stare soulfully at an artist, walk the path with a herd of sheep. I always pictured it to be set in a dusty corner of France in mid-summer. I purchased the notecard, and pinned it up in several dorm rooms and apartments for years after.

The painting of which I speak is one of many Shepherdess paintings by William Adolphe Bouguereau, this one done in 1889. I still plan some day to make myself that outfit, and try to capture a historical moment akin to what Bouguereau captured, and what drew even my distractible teen-aged self into a world where the past and the present slide a little closer together. Read this entry on entry page

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Positive Interactions

A bit ago an acquaintance of many years remarked on the fact that us renfaire performers (and even the merchants (we’re all performers at the renfaire)) are great at creating the illusion of intimacy. We are inviting and engaging, we walk up to complete strangers and ask them to participate in our lives, or our made-up lives. After years of training folks to do this, we’ve had people come back and say that they are better at their real jobs, better at working retail, better at communicating with clients, than they were before learning how to be a renfaire performer. Renfaire folks quickly get over their fears of approaching strangers or they do not last as performers.

We are also trained to go with the flow. There is a popular renfaire training game called: “Yes, and…” where you are forced to agree with the most outrageous statements, then expound on them. It means you can throw weird scenarios at us and we’ll probably toss them right back. I’ve got a friend who says wacky things to see what other people will do, so the other day he asked me what would happen if rain fell up from the ground instead of down, I said we’d all have to wear clown shoes to keep dry. He thinks it is one of my endearing habits, that I can keep up with him in a conversation, I think it is partially training.

A while ago on the radio there was a story about a troupe of improvisational actors who create their own reality and invite others to participate in New York City. The scenario that the radio show particularly concentrated on was a fake birthday party for an unsuspecting bystander. The entire troupe went to a bar, picked a mark, and threw him a birthday party, like they knew him. They picked a fake name, made up a backstory, and everyone gave him giftcards and paid attention to him all night. Their mark protested for a long time, but even after he stopped trying to tell them that he was not who they thought he was, he still felt awful and like reality had skewed on him. I have to imagine if you had put a renfaire performer in that spot, they’d have absolutely no problem being someone else for the night.

Does that make us skewed, just because we could easily fall into someone else’s fake reality? Does it give us an edge that we can engage with complete strangers? I am by no means suggesting that there are not people in the world who do this naturally. Really effective sales people,  nomads and travelers, group organizers all have to have a level of empathy and consensus building. Is it worse somehow if some folks are trained to it instead of developing it on their own? I know I am grateful for the training.

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