Having grown up in the Deep South, I have known about re-enactments for most of my life. What I did not realize, however, is that re-enactments are not a Southern way of looking at the world. Nor do they pertain only to the Civil War era. In fact, re-enactments are becoming increasingly popular around the country as the nation becomes more diverse and people are looking for ways to hold on to parts of our history.
Re-enactments are sometimes what we see in movies. They are ways for people to act out battles and other images from the past. The people who are in these re-enactments groups are very close. Membership is required and is strictly regulated. Some require a familial relationship to the battle while others require that prospective members learn as much as possible about the time period before they can be involved in the battles.
The people who are members of these groups often are very serious about their hobby. They take re-enactment literally and often take on the persona of someone who fought. Re-enactors know who they are and take great pains to understand what their life would have been like had they lived during the time they are re-enacting. These people may read letters and diaries and familiarize themselves with narrative histories of these times. In addition, many re-enactors in groups opt to live in quarters similar to what they would have had during the time they are portraying. They may spend up to a week every year living in tents and other makeshift housing to simulate the environment.
There is another type of re-enactment as well. The people who are involved in these re-enactments are still serious about being historically accurate. They want to learn as much as possible about the time they are replicating, but their overall purpose is different. While the purpose for war re-enactors is to create true to life battle scenes, period re-enactors work to produce a world similar to what existed for the education of others.
We attend a re-enactment fair near us every year. There is a small skirmish that is the heart of the location for the re-enactment, but the real reason we go is to learn about the time period. There are skits and other activities that adults can enjoy, and children also have a good time. The children who attend not only learn about the Revolutionary War period, which is the period the re-enactors are showing.
Children (and adults) can make candles, soaps, foods, and other items in the way that their Revolutionary War ancestors would have done. The benefit to the community is that people are more aware of what went on in the area at the time. These types of re-enactments are a source of community pride even if they are (and they are) riddled with historical flaws. Few re-enactments show the harsh reality of the times. Women certainly were not treated well, and while there may be references to how women were treated on a daily basis. Nor is there discussion of the role of Native Americans or African slaves.
Still, re-enactments are a good teaching tool for your children. They show that people have not always had the luxuries we have today. Good re-enactment festivals will have people speaking to children about communication, transportation, and other big issues so that the children will be able to learn about how others lived. You can fill in the blanks on the people left out of re-enactments if you would like.
If you are interested in being part of re-enactments, then you can check out your local chamber of commerce. They may have information on where people are re-enacting or about local groups. Contact the group and find out what they do. Explain your interest. If you do not know a lot about the time period they cover, be honest but explain that you are willing to learn.
Otherwise, you can try to start your own group. Do something small at first. A successful festival at a local church with only two booths is a great way to begin. Then you can capture the information of people who are interested and grow the event next year.