Friday, June 3, 2016

Reenacting: An Annotated Bibliography

Note: The material below is a shortened version of the introduction to my bibliography of studies of war reenacting, which you can download here.

In the course of writing the part of my dissertation that examines historical reenacting and the experience of war, I embarked on a survey of the books, articles, theses, and dissertations people have written about reenacting. I was quite surprised just how much was out there and how almost every new source I read produced a handful of other new-to-me works buried in its bibliography. I was especially surprised that I had heard of so little of this literature. I have that in common with a lot of people who’ve written about reenacting. Many of them mention the apparent lack of scholarship on the subject.

My ignorance of the volume of reenacting studies is significant because as a reenactor and a professional historian, it's both my avocation and my job to know what's been published on subjects that interest me. I think I’m usually pretty good at that. But it’s harder to realize what’s been published about reenacting compared to other subjects because the authors come from so many different disciplines – anthropology, sociology, performance studies, costume studies, history, English, journalism, public policy, leisure studies, marketing, and so on – and that their work has often ended up in obscure, discipline-bound places, as graduate theses and dissertations, or in niche academic journals.

That some of this work is so little known is unfortunate for two reasons. First, a lot of it is quite good. But second, and more importantly, it means that the very subject of these studies - reenactors - have almost no idea how much has been written about them. They know about newspaper articles and a few journalistic books that more often than not belittle and deride their hobby, but I think most are entirely unaware that scholars have devoted so much time and energy to studying their motivations, attitudes, clothes, and performances. That's a shame, because in my experience, reenactors are as interested in learning more about themselves - their culture, their history - as any group of people.

To help right this wrong, I've assembled an annotated bibliography of works on reenacting. It includes includes all the material in both popular and academic printed sources that I've found on historical reenacting, which I define as the costumed recreation of historical events and times as a hobby. This includes war reenacting, buckskinning, and the Society for Creative Anachronism. 

I left out a number of source genres that would nevertheless interest reenactors and non-reenactor readers. These include most newspaper articles (except substantial ones that do more than briefly discuss a particular reenactment or reenacting in general); television shows and episodes (an excellent bibliography of which can be found in Christopher Bates’s dissertation, available here); reenactor guidebooks and articles in reenactor periodicals (though these also merit a wider audience); and websites (too numerous and ephemeral). The best online collection of work by and about Civil War reenactors is author Wes Clark’s “Jonah World,” here. I have also left off works that focus exclusively on professional living history interpretation rather than reenacting as a hobby. The terms are often used interchangeably, but readers interested in living history in the sense of professional costumed interpretation used at historic sites should check out the bibliographies collected by the Association for Living History, Farm and Agricultural Museums here.  

This bibliography will continue to be a working document, and so if you know of any sources that I've missed, I would love to hear about them! 

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