Thursday, March 7, 2013


Two weekends ago I attended the New England Reenactor’s Fair and Swap Meet with Das Geld Fahnlein. We set up a table to hopefully recruit new members. Last weekend I attended the New England regional conference of the Association of Living History, Farm and Agricultural Museums. I attended that one on my own, though the keynote speaker was from Strawbery Banke. I did not really have to explain my attendance to the folks at the swap meet, though most folks found it odd that a group depicting something other than American history would attend. At the ALHFAM meeting the opening question is always, “what institution do you work at?” I found it difficult to explain that I was not there in affiliation with a specific museum. 

I’m sure if the other folks at the swap meet had the opportunity to attend the conference, they would have learned a lot and could have added a lot as well, but there is a massive gulf between the “professionals” and the “hobbyists” and I seem to be stuck in the middle.

Why was I reluctant to tell the folks at ALHFAM that I work at SBM? Well, technically since the museum is not open, I don’t work at the museum. Also, the museum does not provide me with a living wage. I make just enough to pay for my gas and food. It does not cover housing, health insurance, my kid, phone, anything else.  At least Das Geld Fahnlein does not pretend to be something other an expense in the budget. I paid my own way into the conference, I was not there as a representative of SBM.

I had a lot of fun at both events. At the swap meet I met new people who also love dressing up and living history, got to spend time with some of my fellow guild members, and I got to purchase some round wooden containers for herbal medicine that I’ve been looking for for a very long time. I got to do some medieval cooking to prep and I got to feed my peeps, which I very much like to do. At the conference I learned how to butcher a turkey and make split-rail fence. I got to learn about 1870s knitting and 19th Century bee keeping, and hang out with a group of people who love dressing up and doing history.

Maybe it is just the yucky end-of-winter weather, but now I feel all ugh, and in-between-ish about my place in the world of living history. I’m not your usual reenactor because I don’t do Civil War or Revolutionary War, I’m not your typical Museum person because I don’t make my living by working full-time at a museum.

At the Saturday dinner that was part of the conference I sat down at a table that looked mostly empty so other folks could decide to join me, but I would not be crowding out anyone if I chose to sit at the wrong table (hello flashbacks to grade school.) There was only one other person sitting at the table when I sat down, so she and I chatted while everyone else straggled in. She has 4 part time jobs and is also struggling to make a life out of history (and textiles in her case.) I mentioned that one of the things that Stephen and I do is offer workshops to reenactors on any number of topics from historical portrayals, to research, taboo topics, and (our favorite) interacting with the public. She thought that was fascinating and mentioned “putting out her shingle” to offer the same workshops herself. Doh, I should not have mentioned it. We really don’t do enough of those to need any competition. Sigh. 

I really hope winter is over soon.


  1. You have a very interesting life!

    1. Hi Lisa, well it keeps me busy, that's for sure! Thanks for commenting, it is nice to know there are people out there reading.

  2. Hi Alena,
    I am with you! So sick of winter... I just wish something neat would happen. I can't even think of what---Just something exciting and different! At least it sounds like you had fun going to those events!

  3. Oh, dear! It is a general malaise. I'm so sorry you have it, too. And sorry as well about the lack of a living wage in museums and living history. Your workshops sound wonderful, though.
    Here's to better weather and good news soon, we all need it!

  4. I totally agree about that gulf. I'm never sure where to put myself, either. I've got the degree and am actively seeking work in museums, and I'm more into researching than actual sewing or events ... but in my experience, the professionals don't tend to spend their off-time on this as well. So confusing.

    Awkward moment with the other woman! Sorry about that.

  5. "though most folks [at the swap meet] found it odd that a group depicting something other than American history would attend."

    That's a very interesting and telling experience. And the above sentiment seems to follow given that Craig Schomp's (a swap meet attendee) personal reason to reenact was "to not lose sight about how the country was founded and why."

    I don't often mingle with the reenactors much past 1400-1500, so I wonder how widespread this view is among other late period reenactors.

  6. Ack! Multiple flashbacks! Meals at ALHFAM conferences and school cafeterias. Know it all too well. And now, double ACK 'cuz I considered going to the NE Regional, but didn't. Felt the expense outweighed the "sessions I really want/need to attend" (turkey-plucking & bee-keeping!). And then I had a GREAT day cooking at the Crane House that Sunday, so I felt I'd made the right choice and was well-compensated. However, I could've met you! dagnabit

    I totally understand the whole "So where do you work?" dilemma and not having a home institution. Believe me, I've felt right at home at ALHFAM events, but also very VERY alone. Anyway, I've taken to telling people that I freelance, and then maybe mention a site or two where I do what I do (hearth cooking, mostly).

    On the other hand, I envy people like you, because you CAN say you work at SB. Most museums are closed during the winter months, and other ALHFAMers know that routine (good golly, they're in the same boat!). It doesn't mean, tho, that you aren't still on the "official" list of workers. And even if you're not, so what? You worked there, did the training, put on the clothing in all kinds of weather, dealt with good & bad visitors, and just overall, spent the time, effort, and money. Besides, what a great marketing tool! For you, your projects, and any institutions where you share it all: "I work at SB and conduct other programs on my own." At the very least, it'd be a marvelous conversation-starter. I guess I'm saying, "Stop selling yourself short!" (heck, it's what I tell myself all the time)