Getting Started in Living History

So, you have been thinking for a while about getting involved in living history….maybe even connecting with a local museum or historical chapter.  I mean, you joined a living history membership to try and get connected..that is why you are here!  But you just aren’t sure where to go, what to say, and how to even find a museum or living history group that is interested.

Don’t worry.  We will get you on the right path!

So first off, lets go through the main similarities and differences between living history (a.k.a. Reenacting Groups) and museums.   Museums are (usually) stationary buildings that focus on either a wide or a narrow part of history.  They can feature information on local, state, and national history, or on a particular facet of history (i.e. transportation, women’s history, a specific individual etc.)  Many museums are  a simply display or exhibit only, while others may feature a “living”portion with dressed individuals portraying various parts of historical life.  These individuals may be volunteers (docents) or paid employees.  Living history groups, in comparison, tend to be independently operated and attend and/or create historical events.  Both strive to provide a true, historically authentic experience for both attendees and reenactors.  Both are great places to get involved based on the type of reenacting you are thinking of trying.  And both hope that you have done your research!

But there are some major differences.  Museums may provide you with a partial or a complete outfit while reenacting group usually require all participants to find their own items.  Reenacting groups also are divided into different groups – military, civilian, regional etc.  They can also be the hardest to get into as a considerable amount of “gatekeeping” can happen.  Meaning they may be extremely critical of what you wear and use….I’m speaking from personal experience here and hope you do not have the same result.  However, you can do more immersive reenacting with these groups as they tend to do multi-day events.  Museums can be just as strict with what is worn, but often provide guidance or appropriate attire.

Now that we have a better understanding of the two major types of living history, lets talk about how to get involved.

Let me start by say, that if you are willing to volunteer your time at a museum, you are almost 100% guaranteed to find a welcoming spot.  Many museums are ALWAYS looking for volunteers.  Simply search for local museums ( or your favorite ones if you are willing to travel) and check out their websites.  Many have tabs for volunteering and getting involved.  Send an email or give a call and just see what happens.  You may just be surprised at how easy it is to get started.  Be specific that you are looking to be a living historical interpreter and perhaps give some suggestions on how you can best benefit their museum and guest experience.  As I work for a museum, that is always a great starting point when considering individuals.

Reenacting groups can be a bit trickier…and harder to find.  A thorough google search in your area can provide group names and websites….even Facebook can be a good starting point.  If you are a part of any Facebook historical living groups, see if anyone has any names or groups to contact.  Again, be forthright and open about your interest and that you are looking for information on joining and what you need to provide for yourself.  But, and everyone this is a BIG BUT, make sure you know their viewpoint and mission of the reenacting group.  As these can be run by individuals, you will want to make sure that their viewpoints on history match yours.  I am very open and clear that I enjoy history but do not in my personal or business life agree or support any of the racist and prejudice viewpoints of the past.  Period.  End of story.  Explore these groups with eyes wide open and be confident before you permanently join a group.

Getting started in living history is seriously as easy as sending an email or making a phone call.  And just because a group or museum says no now, things can and do change often.  If you have a bad experience, thats ok.  I have had quite a few.  Just shake it off, identify what wasn’t right and what you would like to change…and try again.  If you aren’t looking for a continuous commitment, try searching for historical events (balls, teas, etc) and see what comes up.  There may be something near you…even if it is virtual, to get your historical feet wet.

Once you begin researching and reaching out to your ideal living history source, you can begin planning your persona (if you have one) along with gathering the items and garments needed.

Be brave.  Be excited.  And be you!  Thats what makes living history so special….passionate people all trying to experience the past in their own way.

My friend Cassandra and I as living history interpreters at a local museum.  She is new to living history but has been a fast learner!

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