Use Reenactors to Make History Come Alive
Reenactors are persons (actors) who play historical figures or participate in the accurate recreation of historical events. A typical reenactor may participate as a private in the Union Army during the United States Civil War and get “shot” in the opening volley of a reenactment of a battle with dozens, hundreds or even thousands of fellow reenactors. A reenactor may play a very significant historical figure such as Abraham Lincoln or Mark Twain.
Battles requiring a large cast of reenactors usually are found at large public events. The solo reenactor may appear at these larger events as well or at lectures, historical celebrations, or at solo performances for special events.
Different Types of Reenactors
There are several different types and levels of reenactors.
- First Person Docent. This is usually someone who dresses according to the time period. They may or may not use the speech patterns and physical characteristics of the time. The costumes they wear may be only to set a mood for demonstrating how people dressed for various activities in the past. They will then demonstrate some skill of the time such as using a loom, grinding corn, or blacksmithing.
- Group Reenactors. These reenactors are usually part of a larger organization of reenactors and reenact military camps and battles during times of war. Individual members usually take a great deal of pride in their uniform/costume and are only too happy to discuss individual details of their part in the reenactment process.
- Solo Reenactors. These are the most dedicated of the reenactors. They have extensive knowledge not only of the character they are playing but also of the historical times as they relate to the character. They perform for schools, public events, clubs and societies by delivering speeches given by the historical figure they represent. Their repertoire is vast from speeches to lectures, in costume, concerning the character and the culture they lived in. An example can be seen in Donna Daniels, a Mary Todd Lincoln reenactor, gives a lecture titled: “The Woman in Black: Customs of Mourning in Civil War America.”
Where Can Reenactors and Reenactments be Found? Nearly Everywhere
National Holiday Events. An excellent time to find reenactors and reenactments is during national holidays like Independence Day, Labor Day, or Veteran’s Day. Almost every community is just a short distance from the nearest reenactment event. Start looking for stories concerning these events anywhere from two weeks to just days before the holiday.
Museums. Docents at museums may dress in period clothing as they give tours of the museum. These reenactors are not only at the big urban museums but also the smaller local museums. While the docents tell visitors about the furniture, music and culture of the time, they also provide great insight into the clothing of the time, since their attire is usually historically correct.
Solo Reenactors. Many schools, civic groups, and private clubs will hire a reenactor for a special event such as an Abraham Lincoln reenactor for President’s Day or a Benjamin Franklin reenactor for Independence Day. In the Midwest, South, and East Coast, Abraham Lincoln is always popular. Ben Franklin might be more popular in the east. That doesn’t mean these are the only historical personas available. Dozens of others can be found.
- Will Rogers
- Samuel Clemens
- Arthur Chester
- Eleanor Roosevelt
Videos. If the local reenactor is unavailable, he may have a web site. If so a video could be available. Check YouTube also. When a town or county has a major reenactor encampment or speaker, the town may tape the performance and place it on YouTube or the city’s home page.
Internet. Reenactors can be found all over the country. Even Hawaii has a group of Civil War and Abe Lincoln reenactors. Hawaii also has World War II reenactors in full fighter pilot costume.To find reenactors locally, go to Google and type the word “reenactor” followed by a zip code or state name. This will most likely result in thousand of hits.
For reenactments of historical events involving large numbers of reenactors, teachers may wish to arrange field trips for a class. For individual historical figures, teachers may wish to petition the school to arrange for a reenactor to come to the school and perform at a school assembly or possibly visit selected classes. Giving students access to historical reenactments will add a whole new dimension that allow students to experience the times and cultures of the past.