Wednesday, December 24, 2014

That random collection of digits

The average American does not know dates.

I was talking with a retired Literature professor about volunteering at the museum and learning how to hearth cook. I mentioned that we use recipes from the late 18th Century, and his response was to ask if we were making pemmican and other Native American meals. By 1770 (what I meant by the later 18th C.) there were very few Native Americans left in Downtown Portsmouth, there had been English settlers here for over 120 years.

The museum was hiring an outside group, dancers specifically, for some shows and the organizer was effusive about his wonderful costumes. First he said they were just like Currier and Ives, then he mentioned “A Christmas Carol” then went on to talk about “vintage dress”. I had to ask if he was talking 1840s when Currier and Ives started  and when a Christmas Carol was first printed, or 1900s which is when Currier and Ives ended and what is usually considered vintage. He had no idea. When I got to see his costumes they actually were pretty good renditions of the 1860s Currier & Ives prints, it was just the concept of dates and names for separate eras that he had no interest in.

I gave a tour of the museum to a kid just out of college where he had majored in history. I mentioned that Ichabod Goodwin was governor of the state just at the beginning of the Civil War, but that we show his house how it looked in 1870. The kid asked if it was a colonial house.

Maybe it is just the way that I use dates and events, names of time periods versus names of styles. I like to think I’m not a bad history educator. It does say to me that when introducing some to a historical concept, giving a date: as set of numbers strung together to indicate a time in history, or giving an era whether it is Colonial or Victorian can be totally ineffective as a method of grounding your audience.

Here is a challenge to you all: How can you give your audience an anchor from which to understand you without using dates or era name?
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Friday, December 19, 2014

Baby in Camp

Here is my annual Connecticut RenFaire post, only a few months late. I have been insanely busy over the past couple months. I don’t recommend having a baby, selling and buying a house, and managing 3 months of intense events at work while participating in reenactments every weekend. Now we’re a couple months later, this is what has stuck with me.

Every year that we’ve set up as Das Geld Fahnlein at the Connecticut Renaissance Faire has been an incredibly different experience. In 2009 we were just starting out: everyone had new outfits, we were teaching ourselves how to cook over the fire, and starting to gather the props and gear of a military camp. In 2010 I worked hard on cooking from historical recipes, and on how we spoke to and educated faire visitors. 2011 we got rid of a bunch of the camp items that had been “good enough” and I got rid of more plastic bins, instead storing our gear in baskets, chests and cloth bundles. That year we also got some new members who brought great energy to the group. In 2012 I was working as a role player at Strawbery Banke which meant less time at faire, and most of the other founding members took time off too, so the group was small and a little strange. It was the last year the faire was in Hebron, CT and a lot of our group was struggling with burn out and wondering if it was still fun. On a positive note it was the first year we had a baby in camp: Amanda and Tom brought their one-year-old, who proved just as popular with visitors as the dog and the cook fire. 2013 we were on a new site which was challenging but we were back on track: we laughed, learned, enjoyed each other and enjoyed history. I was feeling under the weather a lot during the run, turns out I was pregnant!

The challenge of this past year was welcoming the newest member of our family into the Fahnlein. Percy was 4 months old during CTRF, and we were all still learning how to be a family and participate in the things we love to do. Percy was totally adorable in his period clothes: he had all the outfits that Amanda had made for her daughter, plus another friend sewed him an outfit, which was good because I had no time to sew anything for him. We got our picture taken at lot. I also inevitably heard over and over: “that’s not a real baby” then got to listen to the squeals as Percy gurgled, waved his hands, snored or did something else that proved he was real, happy, and just doing his baby things. Percy made a lot of friends. There were faire folks outside our group that we had not interacted with that saw the baby then came back every day to visit, or Percy and I would leave camp to go around the faire and call on all the folks who thought interacting with a baby was pure joy.

Before the faire run I had hoped I would still be able to help with the cooking, monitor the weapons, attend the demos, maybe even march in the parade. I ended up doing none of those things. I had Percy adequately clothed for the weather, but at 4 months old he was still very vulnerable to the wind, bright sun, cold rain, all the things that nature throws at us during a New England fall. So he and I stayed in the big tent and talked to visitors from there. We nursed, napped, I sang him songs and made funny faces, we paced the rugs or lay on the bed. Meanwhile the rest of camp was busy at the cook fire, weapons display, medical demonstration and all the usual things. It was a bit isolating, being stuck in the tent, though people did come to visit me, and I passed the baby around in order to have a few minutes to tidy up, wash dishes,  eat some food. I had made a baby sling so I could wear him around while working, but the weather was just too variable for me to expose him to the elements for any length of time. I did get to interact with visitors when they came in to our tent: they would pet the dog and coo at the baby and I would try to impart a little history. Quite a few Sundays, Stephen told me to head home early.

Was our first camp experience with baby a success? Yes, I think it was. I just need to lower my expectations for myself while I make sure that Percy has a good time growing up.

Percy, Lilly, and I at the Connecticut Renaissance Faire. Photo by Amanda Sullivan

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