Monday, March 7, 2011

The "Right" Mind

Many is the times I have seen a fellow living historian beautifully attired, looking indeed as if they just stepped out of the daguerreotype or the genre painting, only to ruin the impression by failing to research the mind of the impression.

In truly living history, one cannot simply get the attire correct and stop... one must look beyond... to view the world as a person of the era would do so. To be in the "right mind." One doesn't need to live there all the time, but it will creep into your every-day behaviors. Many of my "quirks" have my dearest friends declaring, "You are SO 19th cent.!" Really? If she declares it, it must be so. But the point is, to live history, one must understand enough about how the people of the past thought, so that one can, momentarily, think like a person of the past and react accordingly to the situations one is asked to re-enact.

"Where to find such information?" is the question the newbie asks. The answer to that is to read books, manuals, publications of the period. You will want a good dictionary to hand for some words have changed meaning and usage over the years. The more you read of period sources, the easier it will be to understand both how things are said and what may be between the lines, what is spoken of openly, and what they wished were not spoken of at all. Etiquette manuals may be a source for "how things are done in polite society," but in reading them, we must understand that one of the reasons they were written is the many folks who obviously didn't follow The Rules.

"What sort of information do I need?" is the next question, and that will depend on many things. Your Portable First Person Kit will come in handy in answering this question. I'll cover the Portable First Person Kit in a posting soon. For now, consider a common day for yourself, what you think about, react to, discuss with others... next consider the attitudes you hold that make those choices seem correct for you. With those thoughts in mind, attempt to translate those thoughts back to your period impression.

In Example: At a favorite annual event I portray a dress-maker traveling to a rural community to ply her trade as a "specialty artisan." Historic documentation shows this particular community welcomed "specialty artisans" to come for a bit to ply their trade... long after most other communities had specialty artisans (such as dress-makers, tailors, cobblers, saddlers, coopers, tinkers, tinsmiths) settle among them with their own permanent shops. I need to give careful consideration to why my impression would make a non-traditional choice. I need to not only consider how my impression would travel there, but what arrangements would be considered "proper"... like an escort/chaperon for the journey and staying in a boarding house that has a reputation as "family friendly". I must consider how I feel about this choice and does that affect how I treat the other citizens of the community, what is considered an insult and what is an appropriate reaction, what community "events" would I take part in and what would I decline to participate in... And since this particular event is an immersion event and my impression is something of a specialty, I have a responsibility to my fellow participants to circulate information about my specialty and how it was perceived and interacted with in period.

This is just the initial thoughts of what can be considered to put ones' self in the proper mind-set... one can delve deep or skim the surface.. but even a bit of exploration of the "Right Mind" will enhance even the best impressions.

To begin reading:
Google Books: A treasure trove of thousands of books and periodicals, search-able and down-load-able
Making of America: A collection of digitized publications, including some specialty journals
Project Gutenburg: Another source of digitized books and publications available on the 'net
The Internet Archive: A reader sourced collection of digitized books, publications, and media

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