Living Historian: What Does That Mean?
What’s a living historian? Yeah, it sounds funny… My brothers tell me “you’re a historian and you’re still breathing, so of course you’re a living historian.” (I know, lame joke).
Actually, a living historian is someone who dresses in period costume portraying a character from a specific place and time era with accurate authenticity. Let it be known: living historians may take part in re-enactments, but not all re-enactors are living historians.
Let’s see if some examples can help to clarify the idea of “living historian.”
Readers and friends who are following this blog know me as “Sarah Kay Bierle” living in Southern California in the 21st Century. That is correct information. However, when yours truly is in historical persona character, she is the character she is portraying. (No, I don’t believe in ghosts or reincarnation, just lots of research to produce the best and most respectful impression of good people from centuries ago).
My living history group is “The McGuire Home, Winchester, Virginia” and when I’m in character I’m Miss Margaretta McGuire. But it’s more than assuming a different name for a few hours. I dress like Miss McGuire, I strive to speak like her, I act like her…to the best of my ability. Now, it doesn’t happen magically; a friend keeps reminding me that it’s practice and research that makes a good living historian – and ain’t that the truth! (Oops…Miss McGuire probably didn’t say “ain’t”…back to speech class).
It takes time and research to find out the social class and “current event” situation of the family which determines the correct period clothing. Letters or old diaries must be studied to find the historic person’s voice and character qualities. Etiquette manuals of the era, social customs of the town, and religious beliefs dictate the actions.
Nope, I’m far from perfect. It’s a work in progress…All. The. Time. I started this new character portrayal this year (2014) and am almost always working on improving through research, activities, or practice. So check out the information about the living history group, up-coming events, and the history of the Winchester McGuire Family…come visit us at an event and see how the impression is coming along.
Yep, I’m still breathing, still walking, still researching, still learning – I must be a living historian!
Miss Sarah (AKA Miss Margaretta McGuire)
P.S. I try to maintain first-person character when doing a living history event. However, if you ask a question about my era and I (as Sarah) know the answer, I’ll go ahead and answer it, even if my character didn’t really know. I was the little kid with hard questions and nothing was more frustrating than to walk away thinking the person might have known the answer, but was so intent on “not breaking character” that the answer was never given. Check the up-coming event page and bring your questions!