I was at a loss as to what to do the weekend before last so I took myself off to one of the Heritage Open Days. As I’ve said previously having a bit of a soft spot for all things 18th century and re-enactment I went to the event at Quebec House. Although I’ve concentrated on new ways objects and collections can be highlighted, I’ve tended to keep to all things digital. So today I’m going to the opposite end and talking about a physical way of bringing objects to life, specifically re-enactment.
The idea of recreating past events is not a new one; in fact the Romans were partial to a bit of recreating the past, in what was known as Naumachiae. Naumachiae being the term for naval re-enactment and the venue in which they took place. Caesar going as far to have a basin built in the Campus Mauritius, where 4,000 oarsman and 2,000 fighters fought a recreated battle costumed as Tyranians and Egyptians. One interesting thing to note is that Rome was not involved in these fights, in case the wrong side won!
What is increasingly popular idea is that of bringing the past to life through carrying out normal tasks. Increasingly even battle re-enactment will incoportate some sort of camp in which daily tasks such of the past such as sewing, cooking, drill and fatigue duties are carried out better known as living history.
When you think about it the foundation of re-enactment is really about recreating material culture from the past and using it, be it clothes, a simple sewing needle or reading a drill manual(arguments about standards of reproduction and interpretation are for another day!).
I think seeing a close reproduction of historical objects in daily use in the right context can bring objects in display cases and houses to life. It will never replace a priceless original, but it does illustrate how it was used and can allow people to engage with the object. It can go beyond being an artefact.
Of course this is just my opinion and certainly opinion is divided on the topic. For instance another Walsh referred to re-enacting as ‘shallow titillation’!