As some of you may recall, I recently went to a talk by Dr. Bethany Morrison, of Western Connecticut University, on archaeology of a winter encampment in 1777-78 in Redding. Afterwards, she asked why I was so interested in the talk (Probably because I was the only student in the room.) Grudgingly, I mentioned I’m a reenactor. I tend to keep this hidden from my school mates. Tell too many people and then your professor wants you to come in, in uniform to give a talk (It really happened. Never again.)
We got into talking about incorrect reenactorisms like cast iron cooking wear, uniform mistakes, etc. Both of us aren’t mega fans of those things. On the other hand though, I mentioned how some of my friends like to wear original buckles on their shoes or breeches. Or even how one of my friends has a suit with all original buttons. All the professors cringed at the idea of this. I also mentioned how some of my friends like to go to sites and metal detect (It seems all the archaeology professors are NOT fans of these people) and then sell their items to collectors. I think I gave them all a heart attack at the mention of these things. (You’re welcome adjutant archaeology and history professors. I just got you tenure. I expect my gift in the mail.)
I myself am a firm believer of the Indiana Jones mentality of “It belongs in a museum!” but not everyone shares my views. I like the idea of sharing knowledge with the general public and those that want. Others like to hoard items so only their select companions can gaze at them longingly in a dark room.
At what point is being authentic going too far? Are you willing to put original items at risk for the sake of being authentic at a reenactment? I’ll confess, I use an original fork and knife in my mess kit. They were a gift for my memorization of over 90 freakin’ fife songs. Some people think I’m nuts and say I’ll lose them at an event. With my track record, I probably will. But they’re a great piece to show the public so they can see what people ate with. Buttons and buckles serve that same person.
Of course, I couldn’t help but mention one of my favourite stories. A certain unit in the hobby (That shall remain nameless to protect their reputation) found out the buttons on their coats were actually reproduced Centennial buttons from the 1870’s. They then went through the process of changing all their buttons on the uniforms. That can be upwards of 30 buttons for a regimental. (I just counted 46 on my 1778 style coat) What did they do with all those incorrect repro buttons? Threw them in the ground at events and historic sites for some poor metal detector or archaeologist to find. Dr. Morrison quickly covered her ears and said, “I will hear no more!”
Reenactors can do wonders for material culture. Some are interested in it and want to preserve it. Others hope by showing the public, they may inspire others to take an interest and start preserving the items. Others just downright suck. It all leads to the big question: Do we preserve history to be in a continual use in its intended purpose for all to see or do we petrify a piece never to be used again to sit in a glass case?