Friday, January 23, 2015

Book Review: Past into Present

Is there a book for what I do? For creating, improving, and learning about first-person historical characters? Yes, there is one: Past into Present: Effective Techniques for First-Person Historical Interpretation by Stacy F. Roth. Published in 1998, Roth undertakes to record techniques of first person interpretation as practiced at a number of museums around the US. She looks specifically at interactive interpretation: those where the LH interpreter has conversations with the visitor as opposed to museum theatre, where there is a more set script, and the visitor is more an audience than a participant. In the book, Roth covers the basics like: establishing a vocabulary, the places where first person interpretation is practiced, pros and cons from a practitioner and audience perspective. She goes in depth on how different people at different sites create their interpretations, connect with the public, and deal with different types of audiences.

The book reads less like a how-to and more like an academic dissertation, so it can be difficult to dig pertinent info out of wordy paragraphs for those who are looking for an intorduction. But for those of us of a studious mindset there is plenty to sink your teeth into. The appendixes contain both a glossary of terms, which is very necessary in this field, and a list of “character development” topics that can spur on a beginner, or add depth to an established character.

Roth was not the first person to write about Living History, that distinction goes to Jay Anderson. And there have been books published since, but Roth has not been surpassed, Past into Present is the place to start, and is where we need to return in order to up our art.

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Monday, January 19, 2015

Series Review: Tales From the Green Valley

After reading The Building of the Green Valley back in 2011 I finally watched the TV series this past month while recovering from minor surgery. What a lovely series. Stephen and I watched it on YouTube, we devoured all 12 episodes in just a few sittings.

The premise: 5 history experts spend a year on a 16th century farm, doing all the things a farm family would do around the year 1620. Each episode represents a month in the year, and starting in September they wear the clothes, plow fields, eat meals, make and use tools, care for livestock, the whole thing. This is not like the reality shows that put “average folks” in historical circumstances, the two women and three men who participate are archaeologists, historians or experts of some sort. We are not subjected to any personality drama, just lovely scenery of Western England, beautifully restored buildings and landscapes, and enthusiastic experimental archaeology.

I am not an expert in 16th Century farming, so they certainly could have made choices that were less than accurate that I missed; but with that caveat, it all felt really good to me. I thought all the activities portrayed on the show: laundry, thatching, land clearing, charcoal burning, haying, cheese making, hog butchery, etc. gave a really good feel both for those who knew nothing about the history, and those of us who strive for accuracy in our own presentations. I definitely learned a bunch. I did not know that much about thatching, or that there was such a thing as a ceramic still for medicine making. In every episode there were times when I would sigh with longing over a besom broom, a lovely landscape, or something else in the show.

Watching Tales from the Green Valley was a really nice way to spend some cold January evenings dreaming about the upcoming reenacting season.

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