AskDefine | Define reenactment

User Contributed Dictionary



re- + en- + act + -ment


  1. The repetition of an earlier (usually historic) event, as a performance or social event.
    They're going to the Civil War battle reenactment this weekend.

Extensive Definition

"Reenactment" redirects here. For the 1968 Romanian film, see The Reenactment.
Historical reenactment is a type of roleplay in which participants attempt to recreate some aspects of a historical event or period. It may be a narrowly-defined period, such as a specific war or other event, or it may be more broadly defined.
Activities related to "reenactment" are not new. Tournaments in the Middle Ages had Roman or other earlier themes (while the Romans themselves staged recreations of famous battles within their amphitheaters as a form of public spectacle), and the Victorians recreated medieval furnishings such as tapestries. However, historical reenactment in pursuit of practical historical interest, beyond merely re-inventing history as an entertainment to suit contemporary convenience or sensibilities, seems to be an invention of the 20th century.
The term living history describes attempts to bring history to life for the general public. Historical reenactment includes a continuum from well researched attempts to recreate a known historical event for educational purposes, through representations with theatrical elements, to competitive events for purposes of entertainment, which might be considered a form of live-action role-playing within a historical context. The line between Historical reenactments and presentations at living history museums can be blurred as, while the latter routinely utilize museum professionals and trained interpreters to help convey the story of history to the public, some museums and historic sites employ reenactment groups with high standards of authenticity for the same role at special events.

Reenactment groups

Most groups and individuals who are dedicated to reenactment are amateurs who pursue reenactment as a hobby. Participants within this hobby are extremely diverse. The ages of participants range from young children whose parents bring them along to events, to the elderly. Among adult participants, people from all different walks of life can be found - college students, firemen, lawyers, members of the armed forces, doctors, and even professional historians.


The period of an event is the range of dates . See authenticity (reenactment) for a discussion of how the period affects the types of costume, weapons, and armour used.
Popular periods to reenact include:

Clothing and equipment

Small cottage industries abound that provide not only the materials but even the finished product for use by reenactors. Uniforms and clothing made of hand woven, natural dyed materials are sewn by hand or machine using the sartorial techniques of the period portrayed. The same holds true for headgear, footwear, camp gear, accoutrements, military equipment, weapons and so on. These items (which are generally much more expensive than clothing and uniform in modern production) offer the wearer a life-like experience in the use of authentical materials, tailoring techniques and manufacture. Event spectators may also derive more satisfaction when a high level of authenticity is attained in both individual clothing and equipment, as well as equipment used in camp.

Experimental archaeology

Experimental archaeology is an important part of many authentic living history events, where crafts and techniques are evaluated to see whether they make sense in the appropriate historical setting. For example, various combinations of armour can be tried to see if an item for which no historical evidence exists is actually easy to make with the tools available and practical to use in the battles of the time.


Permanent events

There are a number of locations which have set up a permanent authentic displays:

Creative history and fantasy events

Creative history and fantasy events are distinct from historical reenactments, as these types of events typically allow clothing and equipment that is not historically correct (for example, cotton clothing in a medieval setting), or may have no basis in history whatsoever.
While all such groups follow a looser interpretation of history (sometimes mixing equipment from closely related periods, for instance), some go a step further and mix historical elements with elements of fantasy, or incorporate modern technology or culture into a historical setting. (Often this is done in the interests of increasing safety or reducing costs, such as making melee weapons out of rubber or plastic rather than iron or steel).
Notable examples of this variation on the theme are the Society for Creative Anachronism, and Renaissance Faires, which blend approximately medieval customs, dress, and activities within historically inspired fantasy kingdoms. However, many Renaissance Faires have begun to rein in the fantasy elements and have a more historical feel.

Commercial reenactment

Many castles, museums, and other historical tourist attractions employ actors or professional reenactors as part of the experience. These usually address the recreation of a specific town, village, or activity within a certain time frame. Commercial reenactment shows are usually choreographed and follow a script.


Over the years, there have been a number of publications devoted to covering the subjects of historical reenactment and its close cousin, living history. These have included the Camp Chase Gazette and, at various times, two different magazines named Living History (the most recent of which last appeared in 1997 and was published by Great Oak Inc. and edited by history author Michael J. Varhola).
Another popular book is The Medieval Soldier by Gerry Embleton and John Howe, 1995. It has been translated to French and German. It was later followed by Medieval Military Costume in Colour Photographs.
For the Napoleonic Period there are 2 books of interest that cover life in the military at that time and Living History; "The Napoleonic Soldier" by Stephen E. Maughan, 1999 and "Marching with Sharpe" by B.J. Bluth, 2001. The various Napoleonic reenactment groups, some of whom are listed in the External Links below, now cover the history of their associated regiment as well as try to describe and illustrate how they approach recreating the period. The aim to be as authentic as is possible from the various source materials has led many serious reenactment societies to set up their own research groups to verify their understanding of the uniforms, drill and all aspects of the life that they strive to portray. In this way reenactment plays a vital role in bringing history to life, keeping history alive and in expanding the knowledge and understanding of the period.
Skirmish Magazine, edited by long time Living Historian Rachel C Evans, covers all periods of world history from the last 4000 years. Aimed at reenactors and living historians, it provides articles on topics including living history, reenactment, historical essays and archeology from leading living historians and historians such as Dan Snow, Tony Pollard and Jonathan Davies. The Advisory Board includes high profile reenactors including Jonathan Egglestone and Trevor Poole.

Media support

Motion picture and television producers often turn to reenactment groups for support; films like Gettysburg and Glory benefited greatly from the input of reenactors, who arrived on set fully equipped and steeped in knowledge of military procedures, camp life, and tactics.
In a documentary about the making of the film Gettysburg, actor Sam Elliott, who portrayed Union General John Buford in the film, said of reenactors:


Reenactors are sometimes looked on with suspicion, particularly by military veterans, but also by elements of the general public. It is often difficult for veterans or the public to understand why reenactors do what they do, or there may be questions as to the motivation, or the knowledge of the reenactors.
Common criticisms revolve around motivation, as well as concerns about the level of immersion found in some arenas, notably those involving 20th Century conflicts where combatants had stricter regulations regarding personal grooming. The average age of reenactors is also generally far higher than the average age of soldiers in most conflicts. Few reenactment units discriminate, however, based on age and physical condition. However, there has been criticism about the exclusion of women from some American Civil War combat reenactment units. While there were a small handful of women who may have fought in the conflict, almost all of them did so disguised as men. Attitudes on this topic seem to vary widely.
A final concern mentioned by Thompson's book is the "fantasy farb", or tendency of reenactors to gravitate towards "elite" units such as commandos, paratroopers, or Waffen-SS units resulting in an under-representation in the reenactment community of what were the most common types of military troops in the period being reenacted. This is largely drawn from an North American perspective, although there are parallel issues on the European scene, such as the tendency in Britain for Napoleonic War reenactors to perform as members of the 95th Rifles (perhaps due to the popularity of Sharpe). In the UK there are multi-period events such as 'History in Action' where groups get to look at each other's appearance and performances as well as perform for the general public.
There is certainly much criticism from within reenactment organisations as to meritocracy, leadership and so-on. On the whole reenactors could be guilty of projecting their own, present-minded attitudes onto their historical alter egos.

External links


reenactment in German: Reenactment
reenactment in Spanish: Recreación histórica
reenactment in French: Reconstitution historique
reenactment in Irish: Athléiriú staire
reenactment in Korean: 역사 재현 게임
reenactment in Italian: Rievocazione storica
reenactment in Dutch: Reenactment
reenactment in Japanese: リエナクトメント
reenactment in Norwegian: Reenactment
reenactment in Polish: Reenacting
reenactment in Portuguese: Recriação histórica
reenactment in Russian: Историческая реконструкция
reenactment in Finnish: Historianelävöittäminen
reenactment in Swedish: Historiskt återskapande
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