Dressing the Past: Historical Reenactors & Exploring American Identity Through Costume


>>From the Library of
Congress in Washington, D.C.>>Elizabeth Peterson:
Hi there, everyone. Welcome. I’m Betsy Peterson, the Director of the
American Folklife Center here at the Library of Congress. And on behalf of the staff and
everyone, I want to welcome you, and I also, for the record,
want it to be reflected that we do have pretty
much a full house, moving into standing room only. So, at any rate, today’s lecture: The Botkin series lecture
series is — it allows the American Folklife
Center to do a couple of things. It allows us to present the latest
and the very best scholarship in folklore, ethnomusicology,
oral history, cultural studies, and it also allows us to
enhance our collections here at the American Folklife Center. All of these lectures are recorded,
videotaped, and they become part of the permanent collections
of the center. In addition, the lectures are also
posted as webcasts so that people around the world can hear what
we’re talking about and listening to today, and they will also be
available for generations to come. So with that said, let me ask
you if you have a cell phone on right now, please turn it off. Today, I have the pleasure of introducing folklore’s Pravina
Shukla who is an Associate Professor in the Department of Folklore and Ethnomusicology
at Indiana University. Professor Shukla received her B.A.
in Anthropology from the University of California Berkeley, and her M.A.
and Ph.D. in Folklore and Mythology with a minor in Art
History from the University of California Los Angeles. Pravina’s research interests are
wide ranging, but she is best known for her studies of material culture,
specifically dress and costume, folk art, museum studies
and food ways in India, Brazil and the United States. She is the author of “The Grace
of Four Moons, Dress, Adornment and the Art of the
Body in Modern India.” And she is the co-editor of
“The Individual and Tradition, Folklore’s Perspectives,” an I.U.
press book published in 2011. And her work has met with
much critical praise. She’s the winner of the
Milia Davenport Award of the Costume Society of
America for the best book on dress and the Coomaraswamy Book Prize of
the Association for Asian Studies for the best book on India
in the English language. Her new book, however,
“Costume Performing Identities through Dress.” also an I.U. press book
examines how costume functions to express identity in
situated context full of intention and meaning. And let me point out at this moment
that there are copies of the book out in the lobby, and I
want to encourage all of you to please stick around, buy a
copy and have the author sign it. She’s currently working
on a new book on “Sacred Art in Contemporary
Brazil.” So today, Pravina will be
speaking on “Dressing the Past: Civil War re-enactors,
Williamsburg Historic Interpreters and Exploring American
Identity Through Costume.” So please join me in
making her welcome. Dr. Shukla. [ Applause ]>>Pravina Shukla: Before I begin, there are a few seats,
if you want to sit down. No? You want to stand? You might be more comfortable
sitting down. Okay. Let me get situated here. Can everybody hear me? Okay. Okay. The first thing I want to do
before I begin is I want to start with my gratitude and my thanks
to Betsy Peterson, to John Gold and especially to Nancy Groce,
who made — there she is — who made this whole
experience really, really effortless and easy for me. A look at contemporary
costume re-enactment events in the United States reveals that
there are two key historical periods that are the most performed
and the most watched. These two periods in American
history, the Revolution and the American Civil War are
foci of pride and contention, subjects for serious scholarship,
for popular fiction and film, and they serve as inspiration
for costume performance by thousands of individuals. National preservation
efforts have maintained and sometimes recreated
the sites associated with these particular
historical periods, and these become obvious
locales for re-enactment. Three factors: well preserved
structures and landscape, accurate looking costumes and
the sincerity of performance lead to a moving spectacle
for the audience and heightened experience
for the actor. The realistic looking and sounding
demonstration often has the power of transporting you — you, the
actor and the beholder, to a time and place that’s being depicted, giving what is called a magic
moment experience for both, a suspension of the temporal and
opportunity to travel back in time to an emotionally charged
moment in the past. In 18th century garments
at Colonial Williamsburg and in 19th century uniforms
on the Civil War battlefield, modern Americans celebrate
the nation’s history for an amassed crowd of visitors. Yet, at the same time, the
costumed actors take the opportunity to air their own political and cultural opinions while
exploring significant aspects of their own identities;
giving their own slant to a shared historical
understanding. The American Revolution celebrates
American freedom from England, yet slavery remained a problem
and an institution leading to the Civil War in which the
nation is at war with itself. How do we understand these
historical periods in terms of the contemporary concern for
race, gender and political ideology? Many people– costumed
historians of sorts– use their own knowledge
and experience to explore these questions for
themselves and for the visitors that interact with them
at these historic sites. By observing and understanding
the interpreters at Colonial Williamsburg
Foundation Museum and at the Civil War battlefields,
we see that the occasion for costume performance
allows these individuals to fulfill personal desires
while joining with others in collective public celebrations. Williamsburg served as a capital
of Colonial Virginia for 81 years from 1699 to 1780 when the
capital moved to Richmond. In 1926, philanthropist
John D. Rockefeller, Jr., founded the Colonial
Williamsburg Foundation, which included an outdoor
museum comprised of a 301-acre historic area with
88 original buildings from the 18th and early 19th centuries. The initial goal was to bring
the town back to “the beauty and charm of 200 years ago.” Rockefeller wanted more than to
restore and preserve the past. He wanted to recreate and interpret
colonial life through the museum. Scholarly precision and accuracy
were the early goals which led to careful architectural
restoration and fabrication based on material culture research. Accurate buildings become a natural
backdrop for costumed interpreters. The museum started dressing
people in period clothing in 1934. The first six people to be
costumed were female docents in the Raleigh tavern, which led
to fine reproductions to be worn by the hostess interpreters at the
tavern and the governor’s palace. Brenda Rasso [assumed spelling],
the person in charge of the costume, said that Colonial
Williamsburg at this time was “a colonial revival town. There was this romantic
idea of old Virginia.” In the 1970s, at the time of
the Bicentennial with the rise of the serious study of American
material culture and the stress on the Foundation’s new curriculum
on inclusiveness and social history, the costumes started becoming
better researched and more accurate. Today, the Costume
Design Center creates and maintains accurate costumes for all the employees
of the historic area. 59,000 articles of clothing
are owned by the Foundation. They are made, altered,
stored, cleaned and tracked for 834 people in 1500 positions. They wear clothing of the period
between 1769 and 1781 with 1774 as a base interpretive year. The accuracy of costumes
frees the wear to embody and communicate their version of their persona’s role
in the 18th century. Through interpretation, one is able to express deeply held
personal values. Colonial Williamsburg allows for
the expression of multiple messages that are embedded in his
overarching educational mission. Costume interpreters are able to personalize the
message while staying within the frame of the Foundation. The Foundation six areas
for emphasis for accuracy in education are architecture,
gardens, archeology, decorative arts, history
and the historic trades, which include carpenters,
blacksmiths, shoemakers, basket makers, tailors
and dress makers. The historic trades allow the museum
to present the cultures, lifestyle and values of ordinary people by
what they wear and what they make. This is a result of the
museum’s embrace in the 1980s of the new social history,
often referred to as “every man’s history.” Now the emphasis has
shifted to the colonial — from the colonial period to a
more patriotic and specific theme, which is America on the
eve of the Revolution. In the 2000s, the museum launched
a street theater program called Revolutionary City. The story of the capital is now
told through important residents, the nation builders, the highly
identifiable persons of history — and these are George Washington,
on the screen right now, Martha Washington, Thomas
Jefferson, the Marquis de Lafayette and Patrick Henry, among others. The shift from every man to famous
man underscores a general American tendency to tell history through the
lives of extraordinary individuals. The Marquis de Lafayette,
for example. Some nation builders are well known
characters such as Patrick Henry. Gowan Pamphlet, the Baptist slave
preacher, is also a nation builder. The horrifying history of
slavery presents a challenge that cannot be met in a
museum of living history. By designating Gowan
Pamphlet a nation builder, the museum brings a topic
of slavery to the forefront of its educational agenda. Gowan Pamphlet is portrayed by the charismatic actor
interpreter James Ingram. James has been re-enacting the
character for over 20 years. James taught me that Gowan Pamphlet
was an extraordinary individual. He was literate at a time when
only 20 percent of the population of Virginia could read and right. He secretly ministered the new
religion to his fellow slaves, and eventually received his freedom,
founding what was later known as the First Baptist
Church of Williamsburg. A nuanced understanding of slavery
can be gleaned from interacting with James in his role
as Gowan Pamphlet. For he is articulate, educated,
well-dressed-a disruption to the stereotype of a
slave in tattered clothes and ungrammatical speech. James told me that as an African
American man he finds it important to portray Gowan Pamphlet
in Williamsburg. “Telling the story of
enslaved people allows me to not only tell the story of my
own past, but a story of America. It’s also giving a voice to
those that didn’t have a voice. We have a real high mission here. This mission to tell this story because it wasn’t a story
they were able to tell. Many of these people did
not have an opportunity to write their story down. And so uniquely through what I do
every single day, I’m honoring them that have gone before me
for those that are here, but mainly for the future. It’s the children. The children are my
mission here because many of them don’t know their history and
really doesn’t matter, black, white, doesn’t matter your color. They don’t know the
history of America and how they fit in that puzzle. And so it’s my duty and mission
every single day to get up, to go out, to prove to people that this story was part
of the American story.” James’ educational mission is to
teach about the complex, nuanced and troubling institution of slavery
by considering the environmental, emotional, social and
economic factors that varied from time and place. For example, the tobacco country
of Virginia in the 18th century versus a cotton plantation in the
deep South in the 19th century– what most people think
of when they think of slavery in the United States. The current emphasis on America on
the eve of the Revolution leaves out the culture, lifestyle
and values of ordinary people. Within this educational
mission, individuals compensate by emphasizing those people
less-celebrated including the poor people and women. During the first 50 years
of Colonial Williamsburg, the common people served as context
for the extraordinary citizens, the nation builders who Rockefeller
called the great patriots. The costume focus has always
been on the beautiful gowns and the fine military uniforms. The story of working people is
generally lost from history books and is usually missing
from living history events as well including here. Basket maker, Terry Fong
[assumed spelling], among others, sees it as her mission to fill
the gap of historical knowledge by interpreting the life
of the “lower sort people at Colonial Williamsburg.” Terry has worked at Colonial
Williamsburg for over 25 years, and she was the first female
coachman at the museum. She told me she likes talking
about the baskets as a way to open the topic of social
class because the people who make baskets were
generally poor. Terry sees her costume as
providing an opportunity to discuss social class, as a door
to many things but also has a prop for the visitor since
visitors are often at a loss for appropriate topics to engage a
costume’s interpreter and questions about what they are wearing
become an obvious entry point. Terry told me, “It’s a great
educational opportunity to be able to talk with people about
why I’m wearing what I am.” (Sorry, I have this habit. I have to put my hair up
because it bothers me.) “I prefer to talk about
the lower sort people because I really think they
get a short shrift here. Everyone likes the beautiful gowns, and I really like the
working clothes. They’re extremely comfortable and
even in hot weather, they are nice. People are very curious about them. It opens up an opportunity to
talk to people about the costumes and about my faith in history here. How many people actually wore
these as opposed to the silks and satins and the beautiful gowns? I just think it’s very important
to let people know that many of our people are the
poorest just like today. Not everyone has a lot of money.” Terry’s educational
mission is admirable, for she has a personal
interest in emphasizing and expanding the mainstream story. Once a male visitor asked her, “Don’t you feel ridiculous
wearing those clothes?” Recounting the incident, Terry
told me that she told the man, “No. Not at all, because
this is my history. I’m very proud to wear — to
be wearing part of my history, and I can tell you right
now, my people were poor. I’m wearing exactly what
they would be wearing.” Terry is from Virginia. Her mother’s family goes
back to the 18th century. She is literally representing a
part of her own personal history. Sarah Woodyard [assumed spelling]
is a stylish apprentice dress maker at the Marvin Hunter Shop on
the Duke of Glouster Street. Her personal mission is to
educate the museum guests about women’s history, adding
another conceptual layer to the need of inclusiveness. Sarah describes the lives of 18th
century women while Terry tells of the local poor and
James discusses the plight of African Americans at the time. All this enlarges a flashy story of
the prominent men and a few women who shaped America on the
eve of the Revolution. At Colonial Williamsburg,
guests learn about history through the interpretation
of the costume staff. But the employees of the
historic trades also learn through direct engagement
with historic objects and replicas using period and
reproduced tools and techniques. Sarah Woodyard studied garment
construction, women studies and economic history at
Ohio State University. She has, however, learned
much by wearing and making 18th century
women’s clothing. For example, many visitors wonder
about the stays, the corsets, which women of the period wore, and
that undergarment provides a way for Sarah to discuss 18th
century women’s bodies. Sarah said, “A lot of
people seem to see this as this constricting antifeminist
garment that was restricting women, but when you wear it,
it becomes part of you. And you don’t notice
that you’re wearing it. I mean, you do to some degree because it keeps you
upright, and they support you. But I don’t feel like somebody’s
holding me down, I guess. I feel like it’s a
practical thing to be wearing. It’s what you got.” Sarah, a student of 19th century
clothing and labor history, came to Colonial Williamsburg
with an open mind about wearing stays and petticoats. With an interest in
recent approaches to material culture study, costume
history and women’s history, she’s “interested in history
first, feminism second.” Sarah believes that many
visitors view 18th century women through 21st century eyes, projecting contemporary
understanding of gender politics onto the people of the past. Sarah said, “I don’t want to impose
1970s feminism on the 18th century. I don’t think that history
is progressive by any means, and that’s something
that is fascinating to me because people think that women
had no rights in the 18th century, and they certainly had rights then.” Women had rights, and they
embraced, they enhanced their social and economic status by working
as dress makers and milliners. Sarah explained the 18th
century preindustrial area, gown making was a hired skill
because it was an apprentice trade, yet sometimes history would degrade
the work of women in the home. In the 18th century, women
are working in the home, but they’re getting paid for
their work and contributing to the household income while
fulfilling domestic duties. At Colonial Williamsburg, as we have
seen, costume interpreters strive to broaden the historical
knowledge of the visitor by filling in the gaps created by
conventional history. Namely the gaps of race, social
economic class and gender. The story of the affluent
and influential men of American history gets enhanced by
adding the voices and costume bodies of African Americans, women
and the working class. The institution of Colonial
Williamsburg has established a pedagogical framework, yet the
interpreter sees the opportunity to adjust and fine tune
the foundation’s agenda to reflect their own concerns. Colonial Williamsburg
historian Carrie Carson, says, “The museum is a classroom. The staff members are team
teachers, and the interpreters, in turn, are little professors.” Through interviews and
first hand observation, ethnographic field work, we see
how interpreters, nation builders and those in the historic
trades connect with the visitors and teach history by utilizing
their own knowledge and experience, delivering lessons that derive from
a personally constructed curriculum, talk to one million
visitors that pass through Colonial Williamsburg
every single year. On the screen is Taylor Marcutter
[assumed spelling] addressing a group of school kids. One mythic national moment of
origin is the American Revolution. Another is the Civil War,
a period of four years when the country fractured
and mended again. Over 50,000 men, people,
mostly men re-enact the events of the American Civil War in
locations across the country. Some camp, drill and fight
as a common soldier would. Others assume the persona
of a famous general and address the visitors. The impetus for preservation
of history of the battlefields and of significant
architectural structures such as the Liberia Plantation
in Manassas, Virginia– on the screen right now — once
again leads to re-enactment. The conserved locale becomes a
backdrop for theatrical action, for the performance of history,
identity and political ideology. The re-enactments take place near, but not on the actual
preserved battlefields, but they often occur during
the anniversary of the battles, allowing the costume soldier
to experience the terrain, the actual weather of
the site 150 years ago. Male comradery, sociability and personal pleasure are among
the reasons why these men spend thousands of dollars and hundreds
of hours in hot wool uniforms on the battlefields portraying
the men who fought and died in the American Civil War. Some such as John Slaughter, for
example, have always had an interest in history and this hobby allows
for a continuous self-education. Others, such as Jay Vogle, enjoy
the time with fellow veterans, tapping into a shared
military experience. For re-enactors who
are military veterans, the journey through history to a
war of the past can return them to their own combat experience. Jay Vogle said that
with special permission from the National Military Park
he and others have been able to retrace the steps of Pickett’s
charge on July 3 on the anniversary of the famous confederate
march that led to over 10,000 Civil War
soldiers to be killed or wounded. Jay told me, “Once we
cross Emerson’s Pike, we know what’s happening
to the men at this time. They’re starting to come
under heavy musketry fire. The group gets quiet as
they walk somber in light of the real lives that
were lost here. As we cross, there’s a
total release of emotion.” During the charge, Jay uses
his own history to connect to his own experiences,
channeling the feelings of those doomed soldiers. “For me, it brings back memories
of my past in the military. That’s when I truly
understand what’s going on.” He told me that when he
was in the Marine Corps, he lost four friends in Beirut. And he’s reminded of that
time during re-enactment. Pickett’s Charge carries
extra emotion when Jay recalls his own losses, and he limits how often
he seeks the experience. “I can only handle
doing this so often. It’s — I do it about
once every two years now. If I need it more emotionally,
I would. I probably couldn’t handle it. It’s emotionally draining.” Re-enacting the Civil War connects
Jay to his own military past and that of his ancestors
as he told me. “I had relatives who fought
on both sides of the war. Both got wounded in the Peach
Orchard on the same day. It ties me back to
my family, my past.” For many men, being a
Civil War soldier is a way to express regional identity. Mark LaPoint [assumed spelling]
re-enacts with a 28th Massachusetts, and we have a member of the 28th
Massachusetts in the audience so this was recorded forever. He is from Massachusetts. Re-enacting a union soldier
is partly about connecting to his regional identity. Mark says, “I’m from the north. That’s where I grew up. I can relate to the history that
people that lived there at the time and I can get to know their stories. My heritage is northern.” He continued. “I’m a huge Abraham Lincoln fan so
I think it would be a disservice to his memory to fight
for the Confederacy. I don’t believe or
condone slavery in any way, and I hope that if I were
alive during that period, I would feel the same way.” Mark Sloan is also a northerner
from Pennsylvania, but he chooses to re-enact as a Confederate
soldier. For he feels himself to
be “southern at heart.” He is here second from right with
the 21st Georgia in Manassas made of mostly from men from New York. Mark read veraciously about the
Civil War, and the more he read, the more he was drawn to the
southern side he told me. Mark said, “In most cases, the
south was vastly outnumbered in men, arms and supplies, yet being
led by General Lee, Jackson, Hood and Longstreet and others, the Army of Northern Virginia
won battle after battle. So the south went into
the battles as underdogs. Not a chance in hell of
pulling off a victory. Yet they came out victorious. So that’s what draws my
inner being to the south.” He continued, “So many
southern units are portrayed by guys who live in the north. On the other hand, you
will find very few guys from the south portraying
a Union soldier. They usually will not — they
usually would dress Confederate. Still a lot of ill feeling about
the war even though it was 150 years ago.” Re-enacting as a private allows for personal communication
among your fellow soldiers. On the other hand, many
people choose the role of a living historian
engaging in active education and direct communication with the
public, explaining life in the 1860s and also describing and interpreting
the tactics and strategies of the generals they portray. You’re looking at Dwight Hensley as Confederate Major
General Richard Garnett. These re-enactors are closer
to the actor interpreter than Colonial Williamsburg
and their ability to address a crowd of visitors. Mike Sites [assumed
spelling] is from Maryland. His research revealed
that an ancestor fought in the Confederate
Second Maryland Battalion. So Mike found a unit in Baltimore that portrayed the Second
Maryland Calvary Dismounted, and he joined “to honor
my ancestors’ history.” He later started portraying
confederate Lieutenant General Jubal Early– on the screen right now. He told me that portraying
General Early is his calling. He believed he was on a mission. He gave up re-enacting with the
Second Maryland because, “Really, I don’t want to be out there. I want to be here, here among the
generals who are living historians, not out there among the
privates in battle.” For Mike, the Civil War provides
a way to connect to his ancestors and through his interpreting
personation of a general to act on personal political ideology. This is in fact the driving force
for many Civil War re-enactors. To use history as a way to
critique what they perceive to be a growing power of an expanding general
of central government. It is one reason to don the
authentic uniform as Mike says, “When people come up
to me and they say why? How do you put on a wool uniform,
stand in 95 degree weather? I go, this is why. History needs to be taught.” Niles Clark also uses his
platform to write history. Niles is from Indiana,
though I met him in Virginia. He portrays Major General
George E. Pickett, the flamboyant Virginia officer,
and he is in fact endorsed by the George Pickett
Society and makes appearances at the general’s gravesite
in commemoration of the anniversary of his death. Niles sees his mission as
educating those around him. “See this truth out there. People will look for them, and that’s the main thing
about learning anything. You’ve got to look for the truth. You can’t just take
what someone has written or put in a movie for granted. We search, and I read.” Wear the uniform of Major
General Pickett, he tells, “The southern side of the story
in his northern state of Indiana” to “fix what they’re
learning wrong.” Niles Clark among others dressed
as a Confederate general and argues that the federal government
were taking away state’s rights that the Constitution granted. So Lincoln’s actions
were in violation of what the Constitution
guaranteed to each state. Niles told me, “We can even
look at the powers that be now. They’re trying to undermine
the constitution. It’s our rights being taken away, and that’s not what we
formed this country for.” Wearing uniforms of the Civil
War era and talking to visitors about the 19th century is a way to
comment on the current situation. Contemporary men from northern
states dress as Confederate generals and pass judgments on the Obama
administration while ostensibly speaking about President
Abraham Lincoln’s presidency. But for some the responsibility
of dressing as a general is to keep personal opinion out of the
portrayal of historical figures. Jim Optenager [assumed spelling]
is an artist from Pennsylvania, and he portrays union general
William Tecumseh Sherman and he often re-enacts
with his family. He believes that the living
historian should not use a historical persona to further
his own political agenda. He told me, “I’ve always
had an issue with this because I’m listening
to you not the general, and it’s hard to separate the
two because you don’t know one, and you’re trying to do
one through the other and that’s a problem I have here. But to push any kind of
agenda, I think, is wrong.” The teacher at the Civil War
site, Jim told me should not argue from 21st century attitudes
because no matter how much you study “you will never know
how they truly felt. You’ll never know deep inside.” You can gather facts but ultimately
you’re interpreting the actions of someone else. Jim speaks both in the third person and in the first person
speaking as General Sherman. He told me, “You say his name now, and the first thing you hear
is, ‘Oh, he’s the bad one.’ You have to listen to the stories. That’s what we do in living history. It gives us a chance to explain and
answer questions and to interact with the people as opposed
to the regular re-enactments where they sit while the
troops do what happened in the field and then it’s over. But this gives you a
chance to go one-on-one. We learn stuff from spectators. They learn stuff from us. But I want to tell
them who Sherman was, why he did this, why he did that. You say this is what happened,
and this is what didn’t happen. And you can judge for yourself. You can walk away and
still hate the guy. That’s your prerogative. I don’t mind.” The range of reasons to
re-enact can include having fun and hanging out with your buddies. For some, it’s an opportunity to
express personal regional pride as it is for Ed Mann on the
screen, a South Carolina man who portrays Confederate
General Stonewall Jackson. Words and attitudes
express political ideology. Yet for others such as Jim,
who portrays General Sherman, it’s a commitment to
unbiased historical accuracy. Frank Orlando takes his
mandate for accurate and precision one step further. He believes that a truthful
portrayal fosters not only the general historical record, but
the individual being portrayed. And also it’s a service to
the contemporary visitor. His personal mission is
a mandate for accuracy. Accuracy of uniform, of
attitude, of history. Frank, a retired school
teacher from Pennsylvania, portrays Confederate
General Robert E. Lee. And his wife, Bonnie,
portrays Mary Custis Lee here at the Gettysburg National
Military Park. They’re both deeply
committed to accuracy. “We refuse — we refuse
to walk around here and be inaccurate historically because we’re doing the
tourists here an injustice, and we’re doing ourselves an
injustice as well because if we want to get into that persona, into the
character then, and think like them, then we must look like
them as well.” General Lee, according to
Frank, wore a particular shade of wool called cadet
gray, a color closer to blue than Confederate gray. He spent five months searching
for the right seamstress who will help him order the wool
fabric from the same factory in Richmond, Virginia that made
General Lee’s original uniform during the Civil War. The fabric had to be custom made. It took six months. But Frank believes that “it
was well worth the wait. So now when I walk, when
I do impressions of Lee, I know what I’m wearing
is historically accurate. I also have a belt, presentation
belt that is accurate. It’s an exact copy of the
one that Robert E. Lee wore; and then the belt buckle
was actually cast from Robert E. Lee’s
belt buckle at the Museum of the Confederacy in
Richmond, Virginia. So you try to be as accurate
as you possibly can.” Frank looks like General Lee, which
humanizes the historical figure. He enters a persona from the
outside just as theater actors do. Frank engages in something
we can call — some people have called–
method re-enacting. The result is amalgamation of the
actor with the historical persona and Frank Orlando admitted
to me, “It gets to the point where I have a difficult
time differentiating between Robert E. Lee and myself. You know, it almost meshes. And so that makes it
quite interesting.” His goal is not just
persona, though. He has a higher pedagogical agenda. He’s a teacher. Frank admires Robert E.
Lee’s leadership skills. Through his impersonation, he
hopes to “impress upon people, today’s people how
important duty was to the people of the
1850s and 1860s.” Frank feels a double responsibility. One for truth and accuracy to the
visitor, the other for honesty to the memory of General Lee. “I wouldn’t want to slight Robert
E. Lee by doing something in public that he would be ashamed of. You know, he’s not with us anymore. Robert E. Lee died in 1870.” While portraying General Lee, Frank
gets to embody military strategy and moral responsibility,
but also chivalry and charm, traits generally missing from
contemporary political leaders. I don’t have to tell you that. Just look at the news at any moment,
and you know what I’m talking about. Biased or unbiased education is a
prerogative of the living historian and Civil War battlefields. Unlike Colonial Williamsburg where there is an overarching
pedagogical agenda mandated by a ruling body, everyone at
a battlefield is on his own to do his own research,
to write his own script and to give whatever slant
to history he chooses. These men don authentic-looking
uniforms and teach themselves their persona’s
biography and combat strategies, engaging in the main goal
of the living historian, that of public education. The accurately attired persona
becomes a vehicle for instruction for thousands of people every
summer in the battlefield. History, heritage and education
combine in the living history museum and in the Civil War battlefield. At Colonial Williamsburg, history
self-consciously reconstituted and interpreted by a team
of trained professionals with an institutional pedagogical
agenda where both authenticity and public education
drive the costume choices. Interpreters at Colonial
Williamsburg participate in educational celebration of
the nation’s political heritage. Within the frame, as we
saw today, they are for you to follow personal agendas
of race, class and gender. Civil War re-enactors
are self-directed. They invest their own
money and research skills to authenticate the
uniforms they wear. Their internal drive for
authenticity allows them to engage in a personally defined
educational mission to impart historical knowledge
to the general public. Operating as individuals, not
living historians in a museum, they are free to pursue personally
satisfying actions of comradery and male bonding, self-education
and they’re permitted to express their own opinions about the historical events often
using the 19th century as a foil to make contemporary
criticism of the government. Accurate costumes play a vital
role in enhancing the experience of visitors and participants and
many kinds of historic sites. The difference among historic
sites holds implication for costuming decisions. Levels of authenticity
and motivation may vary, but the sincerity of the participants makes the
meaningful expressions and costumes. In Civil War re-enacting, the
abundance of data leads to a sense of authenticity in uniform. At Colonial Williamsburg, specialized scholarship ultimately
makes authentic costumes possible. By considering costumes in these
two locations linked by concerns for history, heritage and accuracy,
we find that a satisfying level of authenticity can be achieved
by re-enactors allowing them to envision, reconstruct
a personalized piece of the wearable past. Whether during a bloody Civil War or
during the nationally mythic moment of the American Revolution, costumes
draw their wearers and beholders into a deep place of emotion,
a philosophical reference of aesthetic fulfillment. Whether they participate actively
or passively, costume interpreters and their beholders travel
together to other times in our nation’s history
and then return once more to the present tense
hopefully a little bit wiser. Thank you very much. [ Applause ] I know people are on their
lunch break so you can leave. Nobody will be hurt. And if anybody has any questions,
I’ll be happy to answer them. Betsy.>>Betsy Peterson: With
the Civil War re-enactors where it’s a personal sort of thing, and the research is
done individually, how– when they come together what if
people show up as the same person? I mean, are there five
different Pickets that show up?>>Pravina Shukla; Yeah, yeah.>>Betsy Peterson: How did
they negotiate all of that and how did they negotiate the sense
of – of the group sense of accuracy? I mean, if someone disagrees
with someone else’s costume, how is all of that
negotiable and handled?>>Pravina Shukla: That’s
a very good question. It has a lot of different parts. So one of them is most of the people
re-enact the American Civil War are soldiers. They’re part of groups and troops. And they do have somebody
internally as well as a lot of the battlefields have somebody
who’s checking for accuracy. So, if you wearing something
inaccurate, you can’t be part of it. You would agree with this. So there’s a lot written about it. If you look at the — in my book — and now I’m hawking the
book that’s for sale. In the book out there, there are in the footnotes all these
different Shiloh and Manassas, all these things have little —
when you sign up to re-enact, there are rules about what you
can wear, what you can’t wear, what kinds of glasses, what kind of
wristwatch, what kind of clothing. So there’s a lot of — there is
also a lot of internal pressure when some people make fun
of you for being a “farb”; for not actually wearing something
appropriate and authentic. So that’s one. Before these generals —
the generals that you saw, the photographs from
Gettysburg and Manassas. And they were part of organized
groups: Lee’s lieutenants and federal troops, I think
the other people were, and they have one Grant. But today the Grant can come
— you’re our backup Grant. Sherman can’t come;
you’re out back up Sherman. So they only have one of each. And they’re in these living history
camps, and they’re sitting there with their name on a plaque like,
“Hello, I’m General Sherman.” So they’re there to
tell you about history, whereas the troops are just there,
you see them from really far away. They do the battle and then
you may or may not interact with them in the same way. Most people have a big platform
in which you go and talk to them. Does that answer all your questions? Yes.>>Female audience member: Along
with that, I wonder if you can speak to — specially what those — those who are being involved
in interaction, the complexity of first person versus
third person interpretation and how, or if that has….?>>Pravina Shukla: Yeah. That’s a very good question, too. I live in Indiana. We have something called
Conner Prairie, which has — so Conner Prairie is a
living history museum, and the joke is you go there and
you say, “Hi, I came in my car.” And they’re like, “What’s a car? I don’t know what a car is.” And sometimes it gets in the way
of – “You know what a car is. Answer my question!” So Colonial Williamsburg,
they talk in the first person, in the present tense,
but they can say– like with the tailor that you
saw a picture of, Mark Cutter, he said somebody’s going to say,
“What about the sewing machine? What about the cotton gin?” And he can say “the cotton gin
has not been invented yet.” So he understands. He’s not pretending because there’s
something lost here is you pretend like I don’t know what
the cotton gin is. What is a sewing machine? So Williamsburg purposely,
they are allowed to say we understand what that is. That hasn’t happened yet. The Civil War hasn’t happened yet. It’s not going to happen for another
hundred years or whatever it is. So they are able to do that. These living historians also
go in first and third person. They go back and forth. They’re talking as General
Longstreet or they’ll talk as themselves about
General Longstreet. So they do both, and
I think that makes for better education personally,
if I come to this — I’m a teacher. I come to this as a teacher, and I think that makes
it easier for everybody. Yes, Steve.>>Steve Winick: So I’m part
of the re-enacting group that actually re-enacts the U.S.
Navy during the War of 1812, which is pretty specific.>>Pravina Shukla: And I’m very
disappointed you’re not in costume.>>Steve Winick: But one of
the things that’s interesting. We have a subset of people who are
primarily singers and sing songs of the era, which is one of
the reasons I’m in the group, and one of the things that’s
interesting about the songs of the era is that they often
feature women who dress as men and go to sea or go to war, and
because of that we frequently have within the group one or two women who are re-enacting
ostensibly male characters, but they’re re-enacting women
who are dressed like men, who are cross-dressing as men. And I wonder if that’s something
you’ve encountered and what kind of issues have come up along gender
lines with these [inaudible] actor?>>Pravina Shukla: I have not —
at both Gettysburg and Manassas, there were in these photographs
both Henry [Glassie] and I took of all these massive
re-enactors, troops. They were women, but I didn’t
actually talk to any of them, but we know for a fact in the
American Civil War there were a lot of women who cross-dressed
as men, and all the ways in which they negotiated physical
problems of going to the bathroom, but there were wonderful ways
in which they were able to fight for whatever reason to be
with their sweethearts, for patriotic reasons,
but I did not. And I think I’d love to
continue this work and maybe look at that a little bit more,
but I have not done that. Yes.>>Male audience member:
Have you ever spoken to an European reenactors, and
did you find any differences?>>Pravina Shukla: No. I have not. I’ve read about European
re-enactments in Spain and in a lot of different parts of
Scandinavia, especially Sweden. I have not, but one
of the case studies in my costume book is the
Society for Creative Anachronism, which is re-enacting in the U.S.,
in essence, battles in Europe. So there’s that kind of
disjoint of we’re not there. The clothing that you’d be wearing
in northern Europe is too hot for the summer in southern United
States, so there is that problem. And Europe, obviously,
you’re going to be in Europe. The material called — the
history is much longer there, deeper and there’s a lot
more interest in archeology and material culture in that way. So from what I understand– I have not personally studied
Europe– re-enactment groups… The emphasis on material
culture research is pretty good, particularly archeology. But that’s the extent
of what I know. Yes?>>James Deutsch: You
seem to be saying — refer to ‘actors,’ interpreters for
Revolutionary War and ‘re-enactors’ so is there a difference
between acting and re-enacting?>>Pravina Shukla: I’m using that
term because that’s a term they use. Colonial Williamsburg, they call
themselves “actor interpreters” so I’m using the term
that they actually use. That does not have a judgment on
my part about who’s a better actor. But some of the Colonial
Williamsburg people do. They don’t just walk and so they
have this Revolutionary City, little mini plays. I don’t know if anybody’s ever been
there recently, somewhat recent…. You get a schedule. Monday at three, they’ll
be doing this at this tavern, this somewhere else. But sometimes they
do get up on stage. So some of those are more trained. They see themselves as actor and
not just walking around in costume. They’re delivering
lines, blocking the — and some of these Civil
War re-enactors do get up. We went to the anniversary
of the Battle of Gettysburg, and there was a big stage with
2000 people in the audience, and Generals Lee and
Longstreet were — Pickett were discussing [inaudible]
were discussing the strategy. So they were acting to
some extent but not all of these people are considered — a
lot of re-enactors are not actors. They’re just there for
the pleasure of being with other friends of theirs. So they’re not actually
acting in the sense of delivering lines, but some are. So there is an internal
difference, I guess. Anybody — yes?>>Greg Adams: Thank you
for your presentation. I enjoyed it very much. Since the mid ’90s, I’ve
been involved with a lot of Civil War reenacting
and living history events for the purpose of
restoring the music. And it was interesting to see the
dialogue taking place not only in terms of material
culture but also in terms of the repertoire, interpretation. The difference between the people
that are very focused on ideas about being authentic, having
accurate reproduction material yet they might show up with their
1979 Gibson Mastertone banjo as opposed to reproduce
1850s instrument. To what degree are you seeing
material culture related to music and dialogues that go
along with that in terms of repertoire and content?>>Pravina Shukla: I don’t
know enough about that to give you an answer that would
tell you more than you already know. But I’ll tell you one thing. If you’ve been to Gettysburg
or any of these re-enactments, part of what facilitates
the authenticity and material culture not
musical instruments but weapons and uniforms is that there
are specialized shops that are selling these things. To some extent, you don’t have
to really do your own research. You show up to one of
these re-enactments. They have a little village thing
with food and hotdogs and whatever, and they also have a place
that sells the uniforms, the shaving things, socks, shoes. So some of that is easier and it
has to do with just being able to purchase it versus maybe in
other aspects of material culture that are not military, not
uniform based you’d have to do your own research. That’s where some people’s
research skills would differentiate. I don’t know if that was
a good enough answer. Yes, Alan.>>Alan Jabbour: Following up
from Betsy’s question: Well, I’ll phrase it this way:
Karen and I have done work with Decoration Events, and I
got fascinated with the fact that asking people, “Well,
who orchestrates it all? Who invites the preacher? And which preacher? Who makes the discussion about
this and that and the other thing?” Amazingly, sometimes, I
could not find an answer. There was no puppet
pulling on the strings, making it all happen
in a coordinated way. So I got fascinated by
this sort of grass-roots, consensus-guided way
of decision making. And it sounds to me like-I mean, its
one thing for the interview to deal with how you present
yourself, but how to you decide on Picket’s charge, you know,
how to charge, and where to stop, and who falls and things like that? Is there somebody making
those decisions?>>Pravina Shukla: There are. And there are generals. There are people in
charge of the troops. At some point, they’ll be like,
“Okay, it’s been ten minutes. Somebody has to die.” Yeah. “You have to start dying. Come on!” And then one of the guys
I showed the Massachusetts 28th — the guy from Massachusetts 28th,
he has this wonderful moment in which I said, “Do you
ever have the magic moment? ” And he said, “I do.” “Are you ever transported
back to the Civil War era?” He says, “I do when I die,
because then I am alive. My eyes are closed, and I can hear
and just the sound of all of that, of people running, people
falling, people screaming” — to him brings him to the Civil War
era because he says it goes back to the answer I gave Betsy. He says visually people are
much older and much bigger than they were in the Civil War. They don’t really. I mean that Stonewall Jackson
guy is maybe 100 pounds heavier than Stonewall Jackson was himself. They don’t really look
like them necessarily because we just have different body
types now than we did 100 years ago, but sometimes the sound and dying in
that respect allows certain people to experience a deeper
version of that. I just want to say one more thing. This is not your question. I’m just going to add
to your question. The difference between
these two groups: the Colonial Williamsburg
people work. They’re employed at the museum. Somebody’s doing everything
for them. Every single thing about them is
provided to them, the background of their character, the clothing, etc. Civil War guys are
doing all their own research, they’re spending a lot of
their own money, a lot of time and there’s something very admirable to me the fact that
they’re doing that. One of the guys I showed, Jay Vogle,
the guy who does the Pickett charge, he actually re-enacts as Longstreet. And he took the entire
curriculum that Longstreet had read at Westpoint and read it all so that he would understand what did
Longstreet know in order to be able to come up with this
military strategy. He was doing that in his spare time. The man’s a computer programmer. That’s not his job. So what I love is that
they’re spending so much time educating themselves
and sometimes there are some people who at least they have
— they get together. They will — they are coordinated. You have to pay insurance. You have to be organized
to some extent, but a lot of it is self-motivation. And that’s really admirable. It’s really easy to
make fun of these guys. They put on wool uniforms…. It’s wonderful. I mean, God, if everybody would
just spend this much time educating themselves about a topic,
it’d be really great. Danille?>>Danille Christensen:
Thank you for the talk. I was just talking with a friend
of mine whose son would dearly love to be a reenactor, but he
doesn’t have the money for it, and he found someone who was
willing to give him an outlay of an entire uniform that
he couldn’t wear anymore because he had grown larger. But it was a Confederate uniform. And this boy decided not to
do that because he didn’t want to be perceived as supporting some
of the ideas…the particular flag, the White Power, things
like that, right? So do you get a lot of this merging
of fictional and real worlds…. The embodiment of putting on
a costume really, sort of, explores that in a
million different ways. When you’re talking about film,
or stage, or even Williamsburg as the site of reenactments, where
there’s a performance space, right? And so on the battlefield
did you find anyone, who, like purposely introduced an
anachronism in order to sort of keep themselves grounded
in the real world instead of being completely
absorbed in this reenactment?>>Pravina Shukla: Did I, Henry? I did in the other — the book looks
at costuming different contexts. And in the theater — it ends with the theater actor
on the theater stage. That’s the most professional. It begins with Halloween:
“I’ll just put on — I’ll just make this thing,” to all
the way to the most professional. There’s a continuum, and in
the end in the theater chapter, a lot of actors – ‘this
is my necklace. It’s me Pravina. It reminds me I’m Pravina
playing Juliet.’ So the actors on the theater stage
do that, but I can’t remember if we saw anything like this here. Did we? Okay. I have two memories. One is here and one is over there. No, but that’s an interesting point. The point — it was I think obvious,
but I’m just going to say it again. I as a regular person would not have
the opportunity to stand in front of 2000 people and pass judgment
on the contemporary government. But if I’m General
Longstreet and I’m standing — so a lot of people really
seize the opportunity of it’s not me, it’s those people. And that allows every
example of costuming. “It’s not me. I’m just a regular professor,
but really this slutty milk maid that I am right now
is not me, but it is.” It’s just a version of yourself. People use this platform to
show something that’s deep, that should not come out
but it does come out, and that’s absolutely what
a lot of people are doing. I don’t think — it’s
not always negative. Sometimes it’s positive:
You know, “I’m a shy person, but I want to be this
wild and crazy, funny person so I do
it every October 31.” It’s the one time I can do it. And that does happen a lot
in Civil War re-enacting. “It’s not me. I’m a nice person, but I’m portraying this
Confederate soldier.” Yes, Diana.>>Diana NDiaye: Thank you. This is wonderful and
I love your book! I’m curious: with the remaking of
“Roots” there was a real attempt to correct some of the, well
I guess, in anachronisms, some of the incorrect
costuming as well as statements and the understanding of
slavery that has developed since the first “Roots” was done. Do you find that with reenactors
or actors, like at Williamsburg and at other places,
that people talk about an evolution of
[inaudible] or what?>>Pravina Shukla: Absolutely. You go to — it’s not
even just costume as material culture in general. You go to a historic reproduced,
recreated museum, house museum. Every city has a hundred
house museums. The first president of
whatever, the first — and all of those by looking at — we took a tour of these
plantation houses in South Carolina and by looking at the
different rooms, the accuracy or how the furniture and the wood and the wallpaper was done
you could tell when — that — the room is not telling
you as much about 1870. It’s telling you about 1970
versus 1990 versus 2010 when these particular ways
of preserving and conserving and refabricating material
culture was. So the same thing:
If you look at any — look at the costume of
Queen Elizabeth I in movies and theater and photographs. You can tell when that costume — it doesn’t say about her in
16 whatever, 15 whatever. It says about when we thought
that was how she looked. So absolutely. Says as much about our contemporary
view as about conservation, honestly, and recreation
and costume as it does about the period that’s being
depicted, and that’s actually very, very interesting to do,
to look at that and try to figure out when was this done. Thank you. Oh, Cliff.>>Cliff Murphy: I’m curious
about definitions of impersonator versus re-enactor versus living
historian versus storyteller and if there’s boundary
of race there. I think of storytelling associations
in Maryland, for instance and Harriet Tubman
impersonators or storytellers who impersonate Harriet Tubman. I feel like I never get the — the
term re-enactor is never utilized. Does that come into play when
you’re dealing with an individual as opposed to a generic American? I wonder — another is — I know someone who is a
Sally Hemmings impersonator. Maybe we’ve talked about this
where she does – where you can work out with Sally, and she’ll
share with you her observations of Thomas Jefferson and her critique
of contemporary [inaudible].>>Pravina Shukla: You
can work out with her?>>Cliff Murphy: Yes. She’ll go and do workout
in the gym with you dressed as Sally Hemmings and [inaudible]>>Pravina Shukla: Why?>>Cliff Murphy: It’s an
interesting — it’s not my thing. I don’t do this.>>Pravina Shukla: Then how
do you know so much about it?>>Cliff Murphy: She’s
a friend of mine. So I’ll share that with you. But it’s an interesting thing,
right, so confounding perceptions of people being a certain way in a
certain period of time and trying to kind of expand that
as constance in humanity. Anyhow, I’m just curious. Are there boundaries
between living historians and re-enactors and impersonators?>>Pravina Shukla: Again, my
interpretation of this yes. So the theater actors in the last
chapter of my book talk about “I am this character
only when I am” — one of the questions
I ask my actor — one of my actor informants was
“When do you become that character? When do you stop being you
and become that character? In the back when you put on the wig? When you put on the face? When you put on the voice?” And she said, “I am
only that character– that character only lives
on that stage with that set with those other characters there.” The character is only
going to live” — so if you are re-enacting actual
character in a play in a piece of fiction, that character
does not live outside of that time period created
by William Shakespeare. Now, what about Sally Hemmings? What if I am Sally
Hemmings at Monticello versus Sally Hemmings at the gym? Or here? Did she live
in that context? So you’re really transferring
somebody from a particular context. These people are in
Civil War battlefields. That General Pickett does
not go to Kroger’s with you. But he could. But the Pickett didn’t — was not
at Kroger’s as far as we know. But he was at that thing. So for some people in terms of
self-definition: “I’m re-enacting because I am this character. I only know what this
character would have known.” So Sammy Hemmings did not know about
the stairmaster or the life cycle. I’m using that example just because she wouldn’t have known
necessarily about those machines. So these are going to say I only
know what this general knew.>>Cliff Murphy: So it’s also
very much tied to place, right?>>Pravina Shukla: Very
much in terms of this, and the Williamsburg
people do know beyond because it’s an educational — Williamsburg is a paid
private museum. They do know about the cotton gin. They do know about
the sewing machine. They do know about the
American Civil War. They know about Obama. They know about all that
stuff, and they’ll answer and them come back
to 1774 or whatever. I think it has to do with location
and the impersonation as much as sticking to what that
person would have known. So some kind of loose script
in a storytelling event. Somebody is going to be the
famous person, Thomas Jefferson, talking about Tony Morrison’s novel. He would never have talked
about that in real life. So that would be more of a
interpretation versus re-enacting because that wouldn’t have
happened in real life. I think it has to stick
to history to some extent. Yes.>>Female audience member: I
wonder if there’s any acceptable of other races or ethnic groups that
just really want to be a reenactor. For instance, you know, if your
Asian or Hispanic or something that really weren’t – maybe a few, but not very many fighting
during the Civil War. Has there been any acceptance
or any interest in that?>>Pravina Shukla: Yeah, well
that’s an interesting question. Some of those people wouldn’t have
necessarily been in the Civil War but some would have been. If you’re Irish descent, you
could be one of these Irish troops that were in the Civil War. I actually have to admit I
don’t know enough about — haven’t talked enough to this group
of people which I want to talk to — African Americans will re-enact
American Civil War on both sides. And there was a group I was
going to pursue and then that just never happened. There was a group in North Carolina,
African Americans who re-enact, and that is also something
that what roles — do you have to stick to the
actual historical reality of when African Americans were
allowed to enlist on both sides or can you just do it because
you just like history but yet you look different from — I think it has to do with
specific units and specific people. But I think it’s very,
very interesting. Something I wish I knew more
about, and I hope to in the future. Okay.>>Nancy Groce: Thank you so much.>>Pravina Shukla:
Thank you very much. Thank you for having me.>>This has been a presentation
of the Library of Congress. Visit us at loc.gov.

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