The Importance of Living History

I will very rarely express opinions on my blog, but there is something I see in the study of history that is in some ways dying off. Living Historians (Reenactors), those who go out and portray the people of the past are dwindling in numbers. They portray those things you can’t learn from a book. I have always seen “Living History” as “Hands-on History,” an opportunity for the reenactor and those observing to learn what life was like, how things were made, what people ate, what people wore, how life was lived.

As the description of my page says, I have always had an infatuation with history, from names and dates and times to movement, art and literature. History was a calling. My wife was part of a group called the Society for Creative Anachronism (SCA), A group that tries to recreate “The best parts of the medieval world.” While the SCA on occasion gets a bad wrap from other living history groups, there are many people who do amazing research into very specific items of the medieval period. Members of the SCA remake pottery using techniques that were used in the time period, members recreate clothing, study manuals of fencing, military tactics used in the time period. On any given weekend, there is an SCA Medieval event going within a few hours drive of most people, Events often contain arts components, fighting, fencing and researched delectable meals, sometimes with multiple course feasts. It is a chance to dress up and learn about how life would have been lived in the medieval time period and a chance to teach others. The SCA has a war yearly in Western Pennsylvania called the Pennsic War, This war has been going on yearly for 47 years and has grown from a few hundred people to a city of over 10,000 for two weeks out of the year. At this event, there are medieval battles, fencing tournaments and hundreds of classes on many different aspects from Medieval Europe, Asia and North Africa, and each class, tournament and camping are included in the price of the event. People, quite literally, come from all over the world to attend the event, from all across the country to Europe, Israel, China and Australia.

Viking deed Viking Deed at Pennsic 47 – Photo by Lori McKinney (facebook.com/Oriography)

For every time period, from the Medieval to World War II there are living history groups out there portraying a part of it. There are Living History Farms, that will show you what life was like on an 18th century farm, there are pirate reenactors that research ships, clothing and weapons used on board. If there is a point in history that you are interested in, there is likely a group out there that portrays it.

I returned to college for a history degree about 3 years ago, I was inspired to go back after a friend of a friend led a group of friends on a tour of the Gettysburg Battlefield, he discussed the battle and the officers and gave us the chance to be involved in the decision making for the battle, why this thing worked, and this didn’t. He does this as part of his job for the U.S. Army teaching current soldiers and officers about command decision making. Having that chance, to get into the mindset and thought process, reinvigorated my love for history, and set me on the path of this blog and what will soon be my career change. It afforded me the chance to get hands on and understand the battle of Gettysburg from an entirely new perspective, while not your typical “Living History” scenario it was very much a different approach to history that changed my perspective.

antietam 2017-1

As part of my studies, this summer I worked as the living history intern at the Fort Pitt Museum in Pittsburgh. My internship taught me what is needed to arrange living history events at a museum that is part of a public park. I assisted with school demonstrations, public events and educational events held through the museum. I learned cannon and rifle safety, uniforms and clothing, 18th century fishing, woodworking and cooking. Most importantly I had the chance to share this knowledge with people of all ages and cultures. This is the best part of the idea of living history, sharing the past and how things were done. It gives people context to the life that was lived and how things have changed in the modern era.

You may ask, how do I get involved? Where do I start? There are many resources out there to help you. If you live in an area that has a local historic structure or area that you are interested in, reach out to them, ask if they have a living history program and how you would get involved. Thanks to the internet, there are thousands of resources out there and ways to contact groups You can search around and find where you fit. It isn’t always about war, not everyone was a soldier, people portray daily life outside of war time as well. Below I will post a number of links which can help you on your way. If this is of genuine interest to you, and you want to get involved, you can contact me through the blog and through the facebook group.

FPM Cannon photo by Brandy Straub

Living History Resources:

Society for Creative Anachronism – Medieval Living History Group

Pirate Directory – Pirate Living History group datatbase

Reenactor.net – covering groups from 1600 – Modern

ALHFAM – Association of Living History, Farm and Agricultural Museums

Living History Network – A Living history group locator.

Author:

Greetings! I am Shawn MacIntyre, and I grew up with a love of history. When most kids were watching cartoons I was watching documentaries. After a long career in public safety, I chose to return to college to seek a new career path bringing history to the public. In April 2019. I graduated from Point Park University with a Bachelor's Degree in History, Magna Cum Laude. My new path is to make learning history fun, exciting and accessible to everyone. I invite you to join me on my journeys to historic destinations, learn interesting facts about the past, and spark a love for history!

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