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Thread: Vocab question

  1. #1
    Join Date
    Jan 2010
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    Question Vocab question

    Ok can someone please explain what the difference is between a reenactor and a living historian? I have been told that I am both. I have also been labeled as a historical educator.

    Can someone break it down so my simple mind can turn to sewing these officer jackets, and translating these patterns into modern terms please?

    I most humbly Thank you!
    Army of the Shenandoah
    4th Va. The Stonewall Brigade
    Owner Dame Ashely's Attic

  2. #2

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    Living historian covers non-reenacting activities, like craft demonstrations, civilian life presentations, first-person lectures, daily life re-creations, etc., so in that sense it's a more generalized term, covering situations where nothing specific is actually reenacted.

    But in general, I think "living historian" is an attempt to find a label that avoids the negative connotations that have built up around the term "reenactor," so one doesn't get lumped in with all those rednecks who spend the weekend at history-themed carnivals, camping, drinking beer, shooting guns and pretending the south is going to win this time.

    Hank Trent
    hanktrent@gmail.com

  3. #3
    Join Date
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    On 3/4th of the world's T-shirts.
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    IMO, "Living Historian" is a clunky title and almost as bad as "reenactor" and even more comical. It begs the question, what is a living historian? Answer: the opposite of a dead historian.

    As a commonly used term among the public, "reenactor" does seem to most often imply a "battle reenactor", but I disagree with Hank. Craft demonstrations, first person lectures, etc. are closer to 're-enacting' something specific rather than a very generalized representation of a battle that had tens of thousands of more troops than we can ever hope to see.

    But there is a new term now coming into vouge. I've noticed that "historical interpreter" or just plain "interpreter" is being used more in favor of "living historian", especially by NPS personnel these days. As a friend of mine with the NPS puts it, "History cannot be truly be re-lived or re-enacted, but it can be interpreted. You do not speak for history, you mearly interpret or translate for a modern audience what history is saying."

    Congradualtions - you are an interpretor. The challenge is to give a correct interpretation.
    - Ernesto Serna

    "...I'm struck by the contradiction at the core of Civil War reenacting. On the surface it's a hyper-macho hobby, focused on guns and battle. But the longer I hang out with hardcores ... the more they remind me of supermodels, chatting endlessly about their jackets and shoes and hair and how many pounds they've lost since the last event." - Tony Horwitz

  4. #4

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    Hallo!

    As shared, the terms/labels/descriptors are by and large an attempt to make one group of lads/lasses doing something differently from another group of lads doing similar but not always (just sometimes) different things involving funny costumes and replica firearms with some degree or overlay (or not) of history.

    In brief... going back fifty years it goes something like this:

    Hobbyists, history buffs, reenactors, living historians, historians, experimental archeologists, experimental historians, interpretors, experts, author-historians, etc.



    Curt
    Mere Lowly Student of the Past Mess
    In gleichem Schritt und Tritt, Curt Schmidt

    Not a real Civil War reenactor, I only portray one on boards and fora.
    I do not portray a Civil War soldier, I merely interpret one.

  5. #5

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    Quote Originally Posted by Che View Post
    But there is a new term now coming into vouge. I've noticed that "historical interpreter" or just plain "interpreter" is being used more in favor of "living historian", especially by NPS personnel these days. As a friend of mine with the NPS puts it, "History cannot be truly be re-lived or re-enacted, but it can be interpreted. You do not speak for history, you mearly interpret or translate for a modern audience what history is saying."
    I'm surprised to hear it's new. Did it go out and come back? I worked as a "historic interpreter" 20 years ago, and that seemed to be the most common job title for the role at museums then. We had to read theories on it by Freeman Tilden and those kinds of people.

    As far as craft demonstrations and lectures being reenactments, I dunno--they're not really any more a "reenactment" of a specific historic event than a generic or scaled-down battle, unless they're based on something very specific, like the Gettysburg address, an original court case, that kind of thing. I always figured that "reenactment" fit any attempt to recreate a specific documented thing, no matter how poorly, while the other words work better for something that's typical/generic.

    "Living history" works to label the activity, but trying to make it into a label for the person produces the very clunky "living historian." I don't know if there is a really good word yet.

    One problem with "interpreter" is that it's easy to misunderstand two ways. A "historic interpreter" can sound like you translate old manuscripts from dead languages into English. My understanding is that's sorta where it comes from, the idea being that one translates the obscure, confusing, boring past into something that's interesting and intriguing for the public.

    But then there's also the confusion between interpreting history in the sense of figuring out how to understand the historic data, and interpreting history in the sense of presenting it in an interesting way to the public. The former is what historians do when coming up with new theories; the latter is how those theories get presented to the public. The big difference is that the former meaning deals with stuff like evidence and is exclusively concerned with the past, while the latter meaning deals with stuff like learning-theory and is mainly focussed on modern people and how they absorb information. An excellent example is your last sentence: "The challenge is to give a correct interpretation." That's using it in the former way, but the challenge for a "historic interpreter" is to give an intriguing interpretation." The interpreter may simply be handed facts to interpret by his/her superiors and not have any say, or any concern, whether they're correct. Two different skill sets, which some people combine, while others don't.

    So, yeah, no easy answer, LOL. I've given up trying to find a good label.

    Hank Trent
    hanktrent@gmail.com

  6. #6

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    Quote Originally Posted by hanktrent View Post
    But in general, I think "living historian" is an attempt to find a label that avoids the negative connotations that have built up around the term "reenactor," so one doesn't get lumped in with all those rednecks who spend the weekend at history-themed carnivals, camping, drinking beer, shooting guns and pretending the south is going to win this time.
    This forum needs a like button!! Hank you made me smile on a dreary Sunday!!!
    Your Humble Servant,

    Sean R. Otis

    124th NYSV Co.A "Orange Blossoms"

    Middlesex Lodge F&AM

  7. #7

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    Hallo!

    We should not, perhaps, leave out reenactors reenacting Reenacting either.



    It can be so confusing. How does one actually, really, "live history" when the Past is dead?



    Oh alright...

    More academic or scholarly then- history kills the past. History kills the Past because it alters or kills our perception of the Past. Particiularly so when that perception is driven by our understanidng of the Past when mythical. Mythical being tales of near sacred beings and semi-devine heroes.
    Oh pick something obvious...George Washington's hatchet, cherry tree, and the dollar across the Potomac.

    "History" not only interprets myth and reality it destroys myth and divine beings by striving to tell teh Truth and revealing secrets. But the curse is is that the Past can beocme epic, and a Past without myth is also a past without all of its meaning and without the need to tell us or demand that we learn its lesson(s). Or interpret or present those lessons to ourselves and others

    IMHO, where many of the invented "lavels" come form is our Culture Wars over what the Truth is, and who has teh right to own and present what partial or more full forms of research and fact versus myth and invention. Which is always complicated because even the folks who made the history in the past were, are, not immune to myth or fantasy- or framing things to suit their own agenda.

    The same as modern folk keep doing... in that History is different than... Historiology.... even if we struggle with the differecne between reenacting and living-history.

    We all know that the North often wins the battle on Saturday as long as the South wins on Sunday. Or vice versa...

    Curt
    Shingling the Fog and Nailing Jello to Walls Mess
    In gleichem Schritt und Tritt, Curt Schmidt

    Not a real Civil War reenactor, I only portray one on boards and fora.
    I do not portray a Civil War soldier, I merely interpret one.

  8. #8

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    I suppose "living historian" is to the right of "reenactor" which is to the right of "cosplay." And Lord knows, we would hate to be breanded as that...
    Rob Weaver
    Pine River Boys, Co I, 7th Wisconsin
    "We're... Christians, what read the Bible and foller what it says about lovin' your enemies and carin' for them what despitefully use you -- that is, after you've downed 'em good and hard."
    -Si Klegg and His Pard Shorty

  9. #9
    Join Date
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    Default We just called it "cowboys and indians", "yanks and rebs", "cops and robbers" as kids

    Were just somewhat grown up kids still playing ,but doing it so much more costly these days.
    Rob Hayhurst
    9th Texas Co. C
    1st Mo Bn/trans-miss bde
    formerly 61st Va.

  10. #10
    Join Date
    Aug 2008
    Posts
    169

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    Different time period, but it still applies.

    Caution! May be offensive to those with delicate natures, please proceed with caution.

    http://www.atthefront.com/rants/livinghistory.html

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