Dare to Interpret

I just got off the phone with a good friend of mine. She’s planning a civilian living history event at the end of April. Meanwhile, I’m thinking about interpreting peacetime British garrison life on the eve of the American Revolution next month. Her event will fall on my birthday, while she has work on the date of mine. We found ourselves clamoring to express why exactly each event is worthy of the other’s attendance, despite schedule restraints. It became a discussion of what makes an event worth going to. Both of us are sick of trotting out the stale history-book stories. In the age we live in, we don’t have time for “edutainment” that doesn’t teach something we care about. So what are the stories that urgently need to be taught?

I find myself desperate to teach history that will inform the world I live in now, and which perhaps has a chance of correcting its flaws. In light of this past Saturday’s march on Washington, I feel even more firmly than before that women’s roles must be incorporated wherever possible into the typically battle-heavy world of reenactments. I want to create much needed visibility of this full half of the population in a portion of history which is so often left to the men. Long on my mind, but sparked by other comments made after this weekend’s march, I also want to make discussions about First Nations peoples possible. These two examples are of course the beginning, not the end of the list of subjects which should have prominent places in the history we present today.

I want to do more than say “these people were here too” though.  I want their narratives to be intrinsic to the stories we tell, and to inspire self-examination. I want discussions of laundry to be a tool for talking about health, about equal pay, about essential personnel. I want those portraying native fighters to have a chance to talk about exchange and appropriation of culture, then and now; about being understood, and misunderstood. I want these narratives – little heard, and much needed at this current time, to be given room to shine at the forefront of interpretation.

Let’s put the refugees, not the soldiers, in the foreground.

For my friend’s sake, and my own, I will push myself to tell a new story at next month’s event. Neither of us is interested in reliving boring history. And that doesn’t mean that we don’t think it’s interesting to spend the day weeding a garden, or darning socks. It means we want to tell stories that aren’t stale, that no one has bothered to consider before now, and that truly have something to say.

Before getting off the phone we dared each other “plan something cool, something worthwhile, something I’ve never done before, and I’ll be there!” Forget the American Revolution for a second, living history is ready for – is already embarking on – this revolution. Dare to interpret the untold. Put the marginalized at the forefront. Tell a story that scares you because the message is has to share is important. Be a radical historian today.


4 thoughts on “Dare to Interpret

  1. I sure do like what you say — how history can inform us today, and how a whole view of history (sans military) tells a more complete story. It’s been more than once that when I visited a historical site that the docents were perplexed by my questions, and, in having to ask, I felt a bit miffed. Two examples are the Burnham Tavern in Machias Maine, and the museum at Exeter NH, At both places I asked about native people, and what did the women do. Both places have wonderfully preserved buildings and material objects. There was a whole array of objects that are not military. Military was all they talked about.
    So thank you!
    Mary Tegel

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Yes! This is so incredibly important! I was hoping we were beyond marginalizing women’s history so we could work on minorities, diverse economic experiences, heck, even other religions. We’ll drag history kicking and screaming into the real world one way or another.


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