Historical Reenactments in a Pandemic World

Slides by Tyler Payne

This research answers the question of historical reenacting in the context of a world hampered by a world pandemic. More specifically, can the hobby, business, and cultures surrounding historical reenacting continue in a post-pandemic world? The term historical reenactment in this research paper falls in line with the educational and entertainment activity that amateur hobbyists and armchair historians role-play a historical period for the purpose of education and informing the general public. 

The hobby itself took off in North America in the 1970s and has since been expanded, contracted, and redefined over a handful of decades to broadly define coordinated events that attempt to recreate the past in order to inform current and next generations in local, national, or international history. Many of these events, planned by historical associations, non-profits, or local communities, are large outdoor and/or indoor interactive experiences for the general public to attend. One such event that is of particular interest to the research of this paper is the West Lafayette and Tippecanoe County Historical Association’s (TCHA), Feast of the Hunters’ Moon. A historical reenactment held annually upon the grounds of the reconstructed Fort Ouiatenon located a few miles outside West Lafayette and nearby the local Purdue University. The event attractions close to a thousand historical reenactors, individuals garbed in attire appropriate to the historical time period, and draws in thousands of public from Tippecanoe county, the surrounding area, and even international attendees. However, since the beginnings of the Covid-19 pandemic the Feast of the Hunters’ Moon and similar historical reenactments have been forced to cancel multiple events. This has led to a decline of public interaction and revenue from ticket sales to events. Moreover, reenactors themselves who operate small businesses on a “reenactment circuit”, traveling from event to event, have seen a steep undercut in their sales. The pandemic has either limited or completely erased some events from being able to continue operating because of the lack of income for expenses. It has led some to fear for the worst for the continuation of the hobby in a post-pandemic world. 

Yet, an argument can be made that the community that has developed around reenacting has also helped stabilize and provide relief for many during this time. Online resources, sales, and meeting ups have allowed groups and organizers to remain in contact, showing the strength of a community of like-minded hobbyists in a time of turmoil. Also, some amateur historians have used their knowledge of the past to present current living history models of how our ancestors dealt with times of strife and hardship, and to create a discussion about our own living history moments as we currently navigate the pandemic. The significance of this project aims to demonstrate how what is generally perceived as a collection of “weekend warriors” has created a network of support to aid in facing the uncertainty of our own current history. Using interviews, articles, and examples of coordinated efforts by the community at large to mitigate the spread of the virus, this research paper is meant to argue that the historical reenacting community can, like many other communities, weather the storm and come out as a stronger community.  

Bibliography

Agnew, Vanessa. “History’s Affective Turn: Historical Reenactment and Its Work in the Present.” Rethinking History 11, no. 3 (2007): 299-312. https://purdue-primo-prod.hosted.exlibrisgroup.com/permalink/f/1c3q7im/TN_cdi_informaworld_taylorfrancis_310_1080_13642520701353108

Cassidy, Mike. “Covid-19 SOP for GBPA Daniel Lady Farm Reenactments.” July 4, 2020. https://www.gbpa.org/sites/default/files/content/COVID%2019%20SOP%20FOR%20GBPA%20DANIEL%20LADY%20FARM%20REENACTENTS.pdf

Simon, Matt. “Pandemic Lessons from an 18th century Reenactor.” Wired, May 6, 2020. https://www.wired.com/story/jon-townsend-18th-century-reenactments-pandemic/

Smith, Jordan. “Feast of the Hunters’ Moon canceled, TCHA faces $150,000 loss.” The Exponent, West

Lafayette, IN, July 9, 2020. https://www.purdueexponent.org/city_state/article_66b0127c-c210-11ea-91ce-232a6feb13f8.html 

Boyd, Kealey. “How American West Reenactments Restore and Rewrite History.” HyperAllergic, February 23, 2018. https://hyperallergic.com/427305/how-american-west-reenactments-restore-and-rewrite-history/ 

Gibson, Ben. “For Native Americans, Historical Reenactment More than just Playing a Role.” Record&Landmark, November 14, 2020. https://statesville.com/townnews/theatre/for-native-americans-historical-reenactment-more-than-just-playing-a-role/article_81c4972a-26b2-11eb-9fad-c71b4bafa0d5.html 

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