Monday, March 2, 2015

A Reenactor's Timeline

A few of the groups (I'm in there in the middle) at the LHA's 25th timeline event in 2011
I've attended a few LH events that are "timeline events" where groups representing a number of different historical eras/cultures set up encampments, hold demos, participate in fashion shows, and more. For those of us who portray an era that is a little less common, sometimes timeline events are the only events where were get to interact with other people who do living history. Military History Fest is not called a timeline, but it has all the elements, and we've been attending that one (this past February being the only exception) since it started. When we were just starting out with Das Geld Fahnlein we drove all the way to Maryland to participate in a timeline event with another Landsknecht unit, and a few years later tracked down a small timeline event in the middle of Vermont. We've event thought of hosting our own for a while, but getting something new off the ground can be quite difficult.

Winter in the office is when I plan all SBM's events for the next year: get feedback on last year, take a good look at the way we have done things in the past, and think about making changes for the upcoming seasons. Many of the events that I oversee are very established with key elements that work well, and only need minor changes every year: Halloween is about safe trick-or-treat, Christmas is about holiday stories, music and decorations, but July 4th has always seemed a bit unfocussed. We have a big naturalization ceremony in the morning to welcome new citizens to the United States, but as fun as it is to attend, most visitors (or potential visitors) don't think of a naturalization ceremony as a good reason to come to a museum on a day usually devoted to parades and barbeques. This past month I've taken a look at all the elements we've included in our July 4th celebrations: food vendors, craft sellers, kids games, reenactor encampments, garden crafts, special tours, readings of the Declaration, a kid's bike parade, cupcake walk, the list of random bits and pieces went on and on with very little to unify them other than the color scheme. So I took off the list any bits that fit in with other events we already host: we have two food-related events, and a big craft event in the fall. Those bits that had little to do with history like the non-historic kid’s games and cupcake walk I tossed out. Then I looked at the list of things I had left and picked out my favorite parts. The bike parade is a huge hit and I love parades of all shapes and sizes, garden crafts fit so well into the museum’s mission and everyone has fun taking a bit of the museum home, and then there are the reenactors.

Anyone who has read this blog for any length of time will know that I feel very strongly that Living History is a great way to engage with the past, and reenactors do just that, they themselves engage with the past, and help others to do so as well. In 2014 there were three different reenactment groups that participated in SBM’s July 4th festivities: one portraying 1740, one 1865, and one 1943. In year’s past there have been even more: a 1770s doctor, some 1914 folks. Then there are our normal costumed roleplayers who are inside the historic houses representing 1777, 1870, 1907, and 1919. Then there are the Junior Roleplayers who all come out on July 4th and bring to life the buildings and lanes that are usually so static. Once I looked at the event through the lens of my own interests, I discovered that I already had a reenactor’s timeline in the making, with many reasons to cement the theme.

Why a reenactor’s timeline? Strawbery Banke already shows change over time with houses interpreted from 1690 to 1950, so we are well set-up to host multiple time periods. Our houses represent some eras that are less commonly reenacted (not just the ones during major wars) so I’m hoping to attract reenactors who portray some of the less common personas. Strawbery Banke Museum is known to a lot of local reenactment groups, many of whom had told me they would like to be more involved here. Since I do some reenacting on my own I have connections in the reenactment community that I can utilize to get more people involved. Even more exciting to me, I plan on actively looking for groups or individuals that have non-military impressions. We show daily life here on the seacoast, I’ll welcome military reenactors but I want to showcase all sorts of history. There is a fairly active vintage community on the seacoast that I hope to engage; they love history and live locally, but many of them do not visit SBM. One of our staff members has a Model-A Ford which he will bring, and he has promised to bring out a few of his antique car buddies too. I’m excited to get some Native American groups involved, and hopefully some of the fantastic African American LH presenters that are in the area.

I’m gearing up by contacting as many local, or not so local, museums and historic sites that host reenactment events, so I can ask them questions, and hopefully make some professional contacts. I’m reaching out to folks in the LH community that I’ve never worked with before. I’m making a list of all the timeline events in New England, and finding those with interesting, not necessarily military, displays to enrich those that come out to visit SBM on the 4th of July.

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