Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Connection in an isolating age

Effective re-enactors understand that we must form a connection with those with whom we share history. We also lament that fewer people are understanding history, especially the less pleasant aspects. This leads to a more tenuous connection with those who need the connection most.

I interpret history near Washington, D.C. The requested interpreters are young, white men who portray Civil War soldiers. I am not young, male, nor portraying a soldier. Most of the people with whom I am sharing history are not in that demographic either. Are we really making the connections that lead to understanding history?

While I can talk about the Civil War soldier and the battles of the area, they can't "see" the battle from the soldier's perspective from my telling. They can't relate to a young, white, male soldier. They can't "see" themselves 155 years ago. 
To effectively share history, I need to show a different perspective.

When I share about a battle, I share the perspective of a middle aged white woman, a businesswoman, a professional care-giver. The middle aged white women can relate to my perspective. They can "see" what that battle may have been like for them.

A friend is a white man of middle years, a professional man who has worked hard for his settled position and establishing a secure home for his family. The middle aged white men can relate. They can see the choices they may have made through the choices depicted by my friend.

The demographics of the DC area are changing rapidly.
It's one thing for me to include the stories of black Americans in the hospital systems as I speak of women in the hospital systems, that makes a connection with the black citizens of modern DC, albeit tenuous. The connection is that much more strong when my friends who are black Americans tell the stories of the USCT, or the free teacher on her first day, or the enslaved cook who "ain't nobody's mammy!" Suddenly history is not just the story of some white man in a boring book, it's a living, breathing person like them.

With a wealth of immigrants coming to the DC area, I've been working on portrayals of several immigrants. When one of my portrayal shares her fears of leaving all she has known for an uncertain welcome, or wading the paperwork river to citizenship, or trying to make a life amid anti-immigrant hostilities; they can see they are the newest in a long tradition of making America home.

When we share these different perspectives of a battle or of The War in general,  those we share history with can connect. They can "see" themselves 155 years ago; the choices they might have made, the challenges they may have faced, the opinions they may have held because of their experiences. They know where to begin to ask questions and explore experiences, because the interpreter shares mutual challenges. History is more tangible. History makes a connection. History is a Person. One can connect with a Person.


And if you are so inclined, please sign this petition to have a visitors' center and park rangers assigned to the African-American Civil War Memorial in Washington D.C. With a Visitors' Center and rangers, this national monument can further the interpretation and connect with DC's and Visitors' experiences of History. Petition.

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