|Federal reenactors march into the melee at the 2008 Gettysburg Reenactment.|
|Visitors ponder at the Bloody Angle after the "rogue reenactor" charge of July 3.|
As both a professional historian and a reenactor/living historian, I am all too aware of the decades-old tensions between academia and mainstream history. The matter comes down to the question: who can and should speak for history? At what point can professional historians let go of the reins of truth without compromising historical integrity? How can they do so without reinforcing the negative "ivory tower" notion in that process? There are no clear-cut answers to these trying questions.
An extending dilemma to this predicament centers on the role of the reenactor as an educator. Let us take into consideration the caliber of living history organizations such as the Liberty Rifles. Their authenticity standards are superb and they exhibited great professionalism as they contributed to the Gettysburg anniversary. On the other hand, look at the small band of renegade, boisterous Confederate impressionists who charged into throngs of visitors with little tact or respect. Through their actions, we can see how this playground mentality Carmichael speaks of certainly resonates within the trade. But perhaps it is also important for us to recognize that most reenactments are only as good as those who are participating in them. Reenactments can be respectful; they rest solely in the responsibility of those participating.
Like Civil War history itself, Civil War reenacting stands at a crossroads. It seems that a vast majority of the hobbyists are no longer the correct age or have the proper waistline to represent the average Civil War soldier. Having gotten their start in the 1960s or 1970s, so too will many of them still tell you that the war was about tariffs and states' rights. Younger reenactors now have the opportunity to stray away from the "stuff over substance" that plagues many a reenactor impression. They also have the power and means to properly embrace the true causes and legacies of the war through their impressions, and yes, even reenactments. The matter is in their hands.
|WWII veterans watch the D-Day Ohio Reenactment in Conneaut in 2011.|