Monday, March 14, 2011

Series: Do I Know You? part 3

We’ve been discussing creating a Biography for an Impression. As I said in the previous postings, in creating a character biography, it is easiest to start with some basic information and let that lead you to delve deeper. Imagine yourself in the center of a series of concentric circles. Start with information about yourself in the center of the circle. The next ring is information about your immediate family and daily life. Next is your extended family. Next your communities and your public life. Finally your world view and how far-removed events affect your impression. I will take a common Character Development Worksheet and cover each of the questions. I will give you some suggestions for why the question is relevant and in most cases, an idea of some sources to help you decide on your answers. The questionnaire in most packets leave room for as much detail as you care to include, so you may want to start with a little and add more details as you decide on them.

We’ve discussed how your family might influence your impression. In this posting, we’ll explore how your impression interacts with various parts of the community.

Occupation may be one of the simple questions on the Biography Sheet, but it is one of the most important questions to consider about your impression. Each occupation has a reputation, which will color how you as a practitioner of that occupation would be viewed. When choosing an occupation, make sure you can research enough of the details of that occupation to give a convincing portrayal of it. Also, if you are portraying that occupation for modern-day visitors, one will run into the incidence of speaking about that occupation with someone who practices that occupation today. Being able to relate a period occupation to a modern equivalent will allow the visitor to connect with you and the history you are trying to share. The census is a great place to learn about what occupations were common in the area. City Directories were published for many of the larger cities. Some occupations require licensing and those will be with the county and state records in most cases. Your local library can usually point you to which archive keeps those records.

Education is often asked with the occupation. Formal schooling was often viewed very differently in the past. The educational opportunities your impression had will color how they view education, those with more and with fewer opportunities for education than themselves, and certain occupations. They may feel their education gave them a boost in career or they may be trying to act more educated than they actually are. Education can include trade skills, home-schooling, common sense, independent learning, non-traditional learning…. Not just the time spent in a formalized classroom. To delve deeper, explore how your impression came to know the things they do. Why do they find those important to remember?

Hobbies and Interests can tell your neighbors much about what is important to you. Most of us need not only an occupation that provides what we need but an outlet for creative expression and fulfillment of the off hours too. Hobbies we share with others can open a conversation, which makes any event more enjoyable. Music, Literature, Science, Nature, Art, Mechanics, Needlework, Cooking and Construction are just the tip of the ice-berg. Many cities had interest groups for persons who shared interests. A City Directory can suggest a few to you.

A few of the interests are key to how you interact with your community and express your world view. In most questionnaires, this is where they will ask leading questions related to the event and begin to discover how you might interact with other members of their particular community. These questions may be the hardest of all to answer because they are the ones that require both research and thought.

Asking about travel opportunities allows your neighbors to peg your world view. Is the focus of your impression on our local community or will the larger state, country, and world affect your choices? With a focus-era of 18th and 19th cent. America, we are in the travel revolution. The many new inventions related to travel are bringing the world closer together and taking the local community to the larger world. To delve deeper, how does this make your impression feel? At the fore-front of exciting possibility or overwhelmed by the fast moving choices? Ready to prove to the world we are every bit as good if not better? Very small and without the power to affect much on a large scale? Newspaper Advertisements, Travel Brochures, Travel Guides, and City Directories can all help to give an idea of travel in the past. Journaling was very popular on long trips and many of those survive to give us a glimpse of how a person of the past found a community they were encountering. Many have been digitized by Google Books and the Gutenberg Project.

Politics were one of the key topics in past communities. How the governance of the communities will affect the daily life was felt much more immediate to people of past communities. Often the drama of politics will make up the bulk of an immersion event. For much of the past, the right to affect politics with the vote was held by only a few persons. Those without the vote needed to find other ways to affect politics and make their political needs known. Most political decisions were published in newspapers and broadsides were hung in a prominent place in the community. Issues for consideration were advertised in broadsides and debated in the editorial sections of newspapers.

As anyone who has been very sick or gravely injured will tell you, health is an important consideration that affects our lives. It will color how we view the medical profession, medicines, illness, and mental health. It will say much about how we view mortality and possibly religion. It will affect the types of physical activities we engage in. It will affect the precautions we take and the attire we choose. Many of the conditions that affect our impressions have been alleviated by modern medicine and modern sanitation, but they were a very real and quite serious threat to persons of the past. Many of the sanitation rituals and health edicts of today were enacted comparatively recently. While we comply with the edicts and rituals as historic preservationists, to view the world as it was in the past we need to remember in our minds that the pollution was there at the time we are re-creating. Reading the bombast for patent remedies will give an idea of some of the concerns that were commonly thought to need remedy. To delve deeper in the 18th cent. consider the books by Dr. Benjamin Martin, for the 19th cent. consider Dr. John C. Gunn, both are available via Google Books.

Lastly, your religious preferences should be known to the community. Spirituality and religion were very important to our past communities. Wars and political struggles were instigated because of differences in religious or spiritual beliefs. Consider not only the well publicized ones we all know of today, but the many smaller community level ones also. In many cases, religion will govern not only how one lives, but reading matter, attire choices, ritual, friend and spouse suitability choices, and views on charity. It may affect employment opportunities, group membership, marriage opportunities, voting rights, immigration and emigration, educational opportunities, and community socialization. Many religious congregations sponsored publications, schools, charities, social justice organizations, and social activities for it’s members. Many documents can be found in the archives of the respective congregations and advertisements can be found in newspapers and city directories.

With thoughtful consideration of these questions, you should be able to begin filling out a Character Biography for your impression for immersion events ...and probably found a few interesting tangents along your journey. Let those tangents lead your further research. Which questions you provide the most detail on will also comment on your interests... and may open up a conversation or gain you a research partner. The questionnaire doesn't need to be daunting, it can be a lot of creative fun.

Some resources:

City Directories: Choose "Browse the Collection" on the Right-Hand side
City Directories:
Google Books: Travel Guides: Grand European Tour: 1749
Google Books: Travel Guides:1856
Google Books: Travel Guides: 1767
Female Employment: 1863
Politics: 1840-1860
Google Books: Benjamin Martin
Google Books: John C. Gunn

For Newspaper Archives enter "newspaper and community name" into the main search engine.
For Religious Organizations and Document Archives enter the denomination and the community name in a search engine.

1 comment:

  1. Thank you so very much for listing the above treatise on employment for women. My "debut" as a reenactor is coming up soon (Shiloh) and I will be there as a single woman who was recently a teacher out west. What a wealth of information!

    I have vastly enjoyed - and learned from - your blog, and I sincerely hope that you will continue to add to it.

    Tamara Nesbit