Reenactment Groups: Living History

From ancient Greek comedy to the human drama of World War II. There are literally dozens of reenactment groups who have dedicated themselves to re-enacting the past. Here is a brief look at some of them, and what makes them unique.

The crisp morning air swirls in the banners of the battlefield, drawing attention to their fluttering colours. Are they the pennants of jousters, come to test their honour, or the unit flags of a civil war camp, fighting a war of brother against brother? Is that cloth snapping on the breeze a Roman army banner, or the patriotic creation of Betsy Ross? The answer to these questions depends greatly on who is viewing the flags, and where they are being viewed. The world abounds with societies and organisations whose mission, and passion, is to recreate those battlefields and cultures of yesteryears.

In the United States alone, there are over two dozen organisations dedicated to historical re-enactment, ranging from international theatre organisations, whose members recreate the ancient theatres and forums of classical Greece, to the Confederate Air Force, who recreate the aerial battles of World War II.

One of the world's largest, if not most well-known, re-enactment organisations is the Society for Creative Anachronism, or SCA as it is known to its membership. This historical re-enactment group, concentrating on world cultures between the fall of Rome and the advent of gun powder, began on the campus of Berkeley University in Berkeley, California during the 1970s. Since then, this group of re-enactors has grown from a handful of students and faculty to a world-wide organisation with a membership of over 80,000 people. Unlike many of its fellow re-enactment organisations, the SCA places more emphasis on learning about and enjoying the period which they re-enact than they place on total authenticity. As one member states, "the SCA is about putting history on a level everyone can understand and enjoy. You put as much into it as you can afford and want to."

The SCA, however, is far from the only Medieval re-enactment organisation in the world. It shares the stage with such societies as the American-centred Longship Company, which owns and operates two reproduction Viking era ships in the Chesapeake Bay area, the Grey Company, which concentrates on the Dark Ages (AD 600-1100) of

European history, and the Regia Anglorum, a British re-enactment group which recreates English life around the turn of the first millennium (AD 950-1066). Much like the Civil War societies of the United States, the members of the Regia Anglorum believe that every part of their recreation should be documentable. There are many more Medieval re-enactment organisations as well, world-wide, but the Medieval era is far from the only period of history which is avidly researched and recreated.

The American Revolutionary War is another largely recreated part of history. Kept alive by organisations such as the Sons of the American Revolution and their counterpart Daughters of the American Revolution, the Revolutionary War era and its participants live on in modern times, around the world. The Glorious Revolution of Great

Britain and the 1789 French Revolution are similarly remembered and re-enacted in many organisations, celebrating the glory of the common people and the change of the old order into the new.

A sadder chapter of history is also re-enacted, not for the glory, but to honour and remember the sacrifices made in one of the most tragic chapters of American History. The Civil War. Among the organisations which re-enact the Civil War are the North-South Skirmish Association, formed to commemorate the heroism of all who fought in the Civil War by recreating skirmishes of battles which took place during the course of the War. Similarly, the Civil War Skirmish Association was organised in the 1970s to help in the understanding of and to honour the sacrifices made by both sides in the War. Neither organisation actually re-enacts the battles with both lines of the war, using targets instead, because they use live ammunition.

However, history doesn't end with the American Civil War, and neither do the re-enactments. Boldly soaring the skies in War-era bombers and fighters, the intrepid membership of the Confederate Air Force valiantly re-enacts the decisive, and sometimes even the questionable, battles of the second World War, adding to civilian understanding and appreciation of the intense conditions under which the veterans of World War II lived and served.

All in all, for the most part it takes no great skill or expertise to keep history an alive and vital part of the here and now. With such a broad cross-section of organisations, there is something to appeal to all tastes. All it takes is a little dedication and a lot of passion to make the past come to life.

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