Wednesday, February 26, 2020

Helpful Hints for Reenacting Groups

When I published last week's post, I understood that many would respond. Most were quite positive, as they were observations others have noticed over the years. It seems many have responded with positive conversations that may lead to growth. If even one group benefits, then it was worth the effort.

People have asked me specifically, in comments and personal messages, about how we move forward. There are many solutions! It's not a one-size-fits-all sort of thing. In fact, I teach a workshop at my conference about inspiring youth participation, and we barely scratch the surface with well over an hour. Here are a few ideas for helping your event or group grow. Take what you need, ignore what you don't, share if you think it will help others!

Recruiting New Members
1. Attend events that align with your mission
2. Post online often with images showing your research/fun
3. Keep updated with social media sites
4. Create an event specifically run by group
5. Offer a mentorship to help them feel welcome
6. Connect with schools/teachers to find interested youth
7. Keep a webpage with easy contact information for the group
8. Keep an extra kit/clothing available for a day visit
9. Designate a person in charge of interacting with new members
10. Create flyers/cards for members to promote at events

Retaining Current Members
1. Offer payment plan options for new gear
2. Have a "Members Only" page for communication
3. Share resources for future impressions
4. Mentor and put young people in planning positions
5. Provide fun events for members, such as potlucks or sewing days
6. Make dues, if any, affordable
7. Bring in instructors for group learning.
8. Connect with similar groups to team up for events
9. Donate to nonprofits that promote similar group goals
10. Support current members' businesses or side projects

Create a Plan for the Future
1. Keep accurate record of all board positions for future participants
2. Make a yearly "theme" for certain events
3. Create a dialogue with members who actively espouse hateful ideals
4. Invest in members with scholarships if possible
5. Find new events for participation
6. Incorporate people of color into impressions or conversations
7. Create a timeline for improvements in the group
8. Create a research project for current members
9. Invest in a camera or other technology to improve the group experiences
10. Provide members with a yearly goal setting workshop

Don't feel like you have to do all of these! And there are many, many more. Some of them I've seen in executed perfectly in groups here in Michigan. For others, I'd like to see them plan. We are human after all, and Rome wasn't built in a day.

If you'd like to brainstorm more ideas, feel free to comment below with your email. I'd like to help!


Thursday, February 20, 2020

The Looming Death of Civil War Reenacting As We Know It

I really did some soul searching before I started writing this post. Every plunk on my keyboard makes me a bit more sad, a little angry too. Reenacting has been a wonderful hobby for me for nearly a decade, and I hate that this is where it went. But here we are.

I wasn't sure if I should write this post. Maybe as an organizer I've begun to see the flip side of the coin. I noticed this when I became a teacher. Education certainly looks different on the other side of the desk. Perhaps people genuinely don't know these things. And if they don't care, perhaps that "looming death" is much closer than we think.

So read this post as you will. If you disagree, that's your right. But none of this should be news to you...

1. Civil War reenactors are aging out

While this is not true everywhere, take a look at most units present at events. Many of the men are much older than the average man would have been. In civilian camp, there's fewer children or teens. At conferences, I am often the youngest person there. Reenactors are older, and may be experiencing health problems or dedicating their time and efforts to family. Which is totally a thing, and should be done. These people deserve their time.

(And older reenactors are still cool.You guys are mentors and contribute awesomely.)

2. ...but some won't let go

How many groups suffer from having the SAME person in charge for too long? I'm not talking about an effective leader who deserves to be there. It's the one person who has kind of given up, but has taken on the role because no one else will or they genuinely like the power of it. It's hard to give something up when you've had the reins for years, but because a younger person hasn't been trained in the job, it will be harder when you finally step done, either by choice or for health or other reasons.

3. People don't have tons of extra spending cash

Here in the Midwest it has taken much longer for us to shake off the economic downturns of the past decade. And this year especially, I'm hearing many people complain that they are getting zero back in tax returns (I know, I know, people should plan better. It doesn't change my point). So when a conference pops up, many genuinely can't afford to go, or won't budget for it in the long run.

Even though events are supposedly "free" for many to attend, those of us who actually go know otherwise. Factor in food, gas, and any incidentals along the way, and that inexpensive weekend event turns into a money pit if you're not careful.

4. ...but will spend that money on more kit, rather than supporting events

Here is where it gets a little sticky. I don't want to be that person to tell others how to spend their money. Really, that's a rabbit hole I don't want to travel down. But think about this. I've watched people put together their umpteenth ball gown for that little dance in camp every year (or even just to walk around the event...ugh). So much money in fabric and trims. Then I watch them complain that events are dying or ceasing to exist. (If you're supporting AND still making dresses...power to you. Continue beast mode). Sure, I understand the need for new clothes, and yes, I know that updates for research are essential. But...


You want events? Spend that $50 on registration to a conference. Save the money and donate to a group saving historic sites. Your new dress will not save the hobby. Supporting a struggling event and encouraging others to do the same just might.

5. People often support the same events

I never want to discourage anyone from attending an event. And I'm guilty of this too, though I try really hard to attend the ones that I can or help a new one when possible. People who are experiencing health or family issues, this does not apply to you. That woman who just had a baby needs a break, let her have it. Your health is more important than anything else. I'm talking about us able-bodied people who could give up a Saturday here and there to help.

Think to you support new events? Even in the tiniest of ways? Attending is the best way to support, but you could also be awesome by sending a donation or messaging the person in charge with a simple "how can I help?"

Organizers, think of how cool your events could be if just 10 people volunteered or donated money. There's enough of us to do this. Why don't we?

6. ...and believe that simply being there is enough

At one time that was enough. We could all just show up en masse, hang out in camp, present a little here and there, watch a battle, and that's it. Now the public wants more. We should want more. Many events have been the same for decades. Remember that person that refuses to give up the reins of leadership in their group? This is where that person can be lethal.

We need your presence to have a purpose. We can't just sit around in a huddle circle and expect the public to walk up to us for an amazing education (I'm not minimizing non-speaking reenactors-you guys work hard, and you're contributing when you designate a speaker/writing). These little towns we create need to be bustling with presentations and research. Show people what we do and why it's important to know about it.

7. We need to welcome people of color/other histories

I am Latina, but I have benefited from white privilege, as I pass as white and my last name is not Mexican. When I go to events, I am typically the only Latina around. Why is that? And with the exception of a few really awesome presenters and groups, participants are typically white.

People of color have AMAZING stories to tell. They are a vital part of telling our history. My grandma has said this in the past: "Look around the room. Do you see any Mexicans? Why don't you see any? And should you be there?"

That's a really simple way of saying it (and she was referring to people of color as a whole), but just think. There are so many people of color in our country. But few of them are involved in this hobby (those of you who're amazing). Don't say a racist thing right now by claiming that minorities hate history. Not true! I am proof (and others) that we want to be here.

But really, why aren't they participating?

8. ...but I can understand why many don't participate

Over the years I have heard MANY racist comments. Not one or two, whispered under breath. But openly, in public or online (not that it's better to be quietly racist. Just illustrating how blatant it is). And since I've started writing this post, I've already witnessed hateful comments. Before I even had the chance to press "publish"!

And just because you think a comment is not racist...does not mean you're right. Everyone could use a lesson in this, even me (microaggressions are a thing too). I cannot blame someone for wishing to avoid a community like that. There is trauma in enduring the pain of past generations. No matter how important it is to preserve history, I would just stay away.

Now for events that are trying to include these histories...we need to support them! Give your money if you can. Attend. Jump on Patreon (a place to support artists/interpreters) right now and sign up. Because these people swim upstream through a lot of crap to do something often unpaid.

9. We complain about young people not participating

I have heard this more times than I can count, and not just in the reenacting community. "Young people only want to be on their phones all day!" someone will say. Or "Kids just don't understand history." And my personal favorite; "Schools suck." As a teacher and a (still kind of?) younger reenactor, it's very frustrating. I have many teenagers who would love to jump in the hobby. They are willing to do unpaid work, and see the value of preserving history. I was once a person in my early twenties doing my best to help.

And no offense, but I'm standing right here. I'm enough evidence that young people like Civil War reenacting. If I had a nickel for every time young people were pitted as the "other" in reenacting, I'd be rich. I'm not lazy and entitled. I work three jobs, do volunteer work with a therapy dog I trained, and do my best to support my family in any way I can. Complaining about young people is a burr in my side every time I hear it. Possibly because whilst removing the burr, I am working one of my jobs.

Would you attend events if people complained about you before knowing you?

Do we discount someone's research because they haven't "put in the years?"

How do we take into account economic and social factors when appealing to young people?

10. ...and do little to change this

So you know we need young people to keep events going. What do you do to make that happen? A simple "they can join anytime" is not enough. Do you contact schools for interest? Find family members who might want to join? Allow mentors/leadership roles for those that do? Create scenarios that specifically involve them? Have an extra kit or program in your group for payment plans?

These are not one size fits all suggestions. Your group might need something else. But if what you're doing is not working, you have to think why. Why don't we have young people? What can we do to make this better? If you're a part of group doing these things, keep going. We need you.

*I've noticed too that many young people are moving to reenact in other eras. Why do you think that is? What about them is more appealing? Questions, questions...


Attendance at some events is doing well. But in my personal experience, talking to many organizers, there is anxiety. As if a giant clock is looming above, ticking. And we don't foresee a huge upswing in volunteers and participants any time soon. Recently I've spoken to a person involved in a local history organization. Apparently in that area, three organizations have closed in the past few years.

There are pockets of hope in the living history community. Groups that are striving above and beyond, individuals that donate time and money to making things better. I salute you. Keep up the good work and send me a message if you need some help. Perhaps I can't but maybe I can find someone who can.

Please note too that I titled this post "The Looming Death of Civil War Reenacting As We Know It." Pay special attention to "As we know it." Because regardless of what I've posted here or how many people participate, reenacting will change. It is inevitable. I am hoping this death will result in a renewal, new ways for us to represent history.

I understand that many will view this post with irritation, or even anger. I tried to carefully put my thoughts to words, but it can be difficult to fully explain the scope of this issue. As someone who actively organizes a conferences, it might seem like I'm complaining about people who won't attend my own conference. In reality, my conference will run just fine. That said, I've gained some insights over the past three years and thought I'd share them here. Most people who participate in living history do not plan events.

All of these are observations that I've heard others make as well. Take it as warning that change is coming, if it hasn't already.

If ANYTHING comes from this post, I hope it's more participation. More donations. More...everything. Because in many places we're being held together by duct tape and thread.


Friday, February 14, 2020

Happy Valentine's Day!

Happy Valentine's Day!
A quick read for you from Godey himself...
Godey's Lady's Book, February 1849

"WHAT a beautiful Valentine !" exclaimed Miss Selina Simpkins, as she eagerly scanned the splendidly embossed and ornamented sheet that Miss Eveleth had just received. "See, it is half smothered with 'doves and loves,' and all manner of beautiful devices; and, I declare, there is a sweet little looking-glass here in the centre! how beautiful!"

"And the sentiment printed, you, perceive— like cutler's poetry, 'love me and leave me not.' A miserable compliment, I think it," replied Miss Eveleth.

"But then it is very beautiful, and must have cost at least fifty dollars," persisted Miss Simpkins.

"And that is the most absurd part of the matter," replied the other. "No gentleman of talents would send a Valentine that he did not write, and none but a vain fool would send such an expensive toy, that is not of the least worth either for use or ornament Probably the dunce who sent it has not paid his tailor's bill for the year."

"You don't think much of Valentines , you have so many."

"No, because they are not worth a thought after the day is over. I wish we could have a new fashion of Valentines , something that would be worth treasuring and remembering— presents that would make the day hallowed, as it was in the olden time."

Such was the substance of a conversation on last Valentine' s day, and we determined to improve the opportunity of the return of the season to suggest a new fashion. But first, we will show why this is now necessary.

In the olden times, the term Valentine meant a true love, chosen on the fourteenth of February, hence called St. Valentine' s Day. Later, the name was given to little poems, generally devoted to the tender passion, written by the person who sent the Valentine , and addressed to the chosen favorite.

Now the title is bestowed on printed doggerel, bought in market and distributed through the penny-post, with no more of sentiment to consecrate the offering than though these Valentines were patented recipes for colds, or notices of a new milliner's shop.

The greater portion of these printed articles are of foreign manufacture— the fancy dealers of Paris and London sending out an inundation of their most ridiculous and expensive Valentines for the American market. Some of these, to be sure, are very beautifully designed, and form curious and costly presents; but the mass are uncouth daubs, the versification in the Mother Goose style, and some of the caricatures are so gross and disgusting that it would seem only savages or brutes could have prepared them.

Yet the fashion of sending these missives has now become quite a rage, and as most of those who wish to present a token of regard on this day have not leisure to write an original Valentine , thousands of these stereotyped, miserable things are purchased and sent.

The change we propose is this: instead of sending one of these designs, which are often costly and utterly valueless when the day is over, send a book or periodical, marking in the work sent the particular poem or character you desire to have considered appropriate or expressive of your own sentiments.

Should a young gentleman wish to express devotion to his lady-love, what better made than to send her on Valentine' s Day the Lady's Book, and continue it through the year? This would cost but three dollars, and every month would bring the memento of his homage. Should he wish to be incognito, and thus keep her curiosity and interest alive through the whole year, this can easily be done. We have named the "Lady's Book" first, because it is the only work prepared expressly and wholly for ladies; but there is a variety of excellent periodicals to choose from— "The Union Magazine," "Graham's" and the "Columbian"— each would be a beautiful and appropriate Valentine, and all would not cost half the money paid for one of the imported trumpery affairs, that are of no real value, and can rarely become of any sentimental interest.

Then for books, there is now a legion of works suitable for Valentine presents. We will enumerate a few. Either of the three new works entitled "Female Poets of America;" "Mrs. Sigourney's Poems;" the two works, "Women of the Bible" and "Women of the Scriptures;" "The Female Poets of England," and Mrs. Ellet's excellent work, "Women of the American Revolution"— any of these would be beautiful and appropriate Valentines . So also the works of our gentlemen poets— Bryant, Longfellow, Halleck, Willis, Percival, Hoffman, Simms, Morris, Sargent, Street, Holmes, and others whose poetical works form rich ornaments for' the parlor and boudoir. Select a Valentine from among these beautiful books, and your true love or friend will prize the gift certainly, and commend the good taste of the giver. The fourteenth of February will then become a day sacred to the Muses as well as to Lovers, a day when Genius will hallow sentiment and make the heart a shrine worthy of worship in the sense of the olden time, when the term Valentine was synonymous with true love.

We request the good offices of the great corps of American editors to help on the good work. Let us have this new fashion for Valentines tried fairly, and then let it be judged by its merits. And may the Valentine Day, 1849, be a day rich in good works to all who approve the plan we have thus hastily sketched.


I tried my hand at a little valentine. I printed and cut out the image from this article in Godey's and created a punch paper border around it. My coloring skills are subpar at best, but at least it's cute.  
I hope you enjoy your day with someone you love!


Wednesday, February 5, 2020

A Coral Shell Stand

I found a thing. A thing in a 19th century magazine that I may be just crazy enough to try one day.
Arthur's Home Magazine, 1861

I have NO IDEA if this would actually work. You take some wire, twist is into a branch coral shape. Then, it is covered in a "soft cotton;" make like 5 of these things. Twist them together to make the larger piece, and tie on cotton cord in different spots to make the tinier branches of coral. Melt some wax, mix in vermillion to give it a coral hue, then pour it over the portions of the frame. I imagine this part would take forever, as you'd want to drip it in a way that it branched out like actual coral. A shell goes on top and I could add paper flowers or some other chimney ornament type thing.

One of these days I'm going to try this. I'll need a ton of space and the patience to drip wax everywhere. Until then, I'll just post the instructions and see if anyone else was crazy enough to give it a go first!


On My Bookshelf: December

December has been a really rough month. Between what happened in Oxford (not far from where I live...) and just the general pandemic issues,...