One Journalist Asks: Do Battle Reenactments Trivialize History?

 A journalist and battle re-enactor interviews a professional historian about the value of living history events. Image courtesy Nat Bocking, Geograph.co.uk via WikiCommons.


A journalist and battle re-enactor interviews a professional historian about the value of living history events. Image courtesy Nat Bocking, Geograph.co.uk via WikiCommons.

“One professional historian maintains that the roaring cannon and flashing musketry of these popular recreations reduce major historical events to little more than noisome spectacles.”

AFTER LAST week’s 150th anniversary celebrations at Gettysburg, one living historian writing for the Pennsylvania-based news hub PennLive.com wonders if battlefield reenactments actually do more harm than good to the cause of preserving the past.

The author, who admits to taking part in Civil War reenactments himself, interviews at least one professional historian who maintains that the roaring cannon and flashing musketry of these popular recreations reduce major historical events to little more than noisome spectacles.

It’s an argument that is hotly contested by re-enactors who believe their hobby serves the public good in that it brings history to life.

“There’s a mutual simmering resentment between historians and re-enactors. It’s a tension over who should tell the story of the war and how. Call it the eggheads versus the interlopers,” explains the David Gilliland of PennLive.com. “Like any good American feud, it includes perceived differences in class, propriety, work ethic and honor. The professional historians are clearly the establishment, and the re-enactors the literally unwashed masses.”

One historian interviewed in the piece advances the idea that the tens of thousands of visitors who descended onto Gettysburg last week to witness the re-enactment would have probably had a more meaningful experience had they simply walked Cemetery Ridge, Little Round Top or Culp’s Hill. Or better yet, the same source argues, tour the site with an professional battlefield guide rather than watch “all the men in blue and gray pretending to be soldiers.”

To check out the story, click here.

3 comments for “One Journalist Asks: Do Battle Reenactments Trivialize History?

  1. 7 July, 2013 at 8:27 am

    Leave it to an academic to get his underwear in a twist. There is a place for a professionial battlefield guide. When we visited Gettysburg a number of years ago ours was excellent. On the other hand the very best of reenactors love history and work hard to give a feel to the period. The fact they are not “professionial” adds to their portrayals as regular people much like the soldiers who fought.

    • 7 July, 2013 at 1:18 pm

      True enough! When I was reading the article, which by the way I thought was very well done, I was thinking ‘why can’t a person do both?’ i.e. take in the spectacle of the reenactment on the anniversary, but come back another day and walk it quietly.

  2. Jerryboy
    15 July, 2013 at 9:09 pm

    why not have the best of both? have reenactors acting out the great moments in history, for example both side’s headquarters where the audience watches the battles from the commander’s viewpoint, with messengers riding back and forth delivering orders and messages according to how the battles went. meanwhile those in the audience can also watch and experience the clash of arms as the battles rage.

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