First person? Imperative!

KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERAIn language, the imperative is a grammatical mood that “forms commands or requests, including the giving of prohibition or permission, or any other kind of advice or exhortation.”

In a quarter century of participation in American Civil War re-enacting, I have had plenty of opportunities to see the variety of attitudes with which women and men approach the hobby. I think it can fairly be said that all hobbies exhibit a spectrum of involvement, from near-fanatical to ultra-casual. That’s the freedom a hobby ought to afford.

In re-enacting this spectrum is manifested at one end by people that style themselves “progressives.” Such folk strive for authenticity in all aspects of their impression. Thus, they are likely to make their own clothing (following mid-Nineteenth Century materials and patterns) and eat foods that were typical soldiers’ fare.

The other end of the dial sees those that are apt to have a replica canvas tent stuffed with beer coolers, air mattresses, cots, LED lights and other modern-day creature comforts. The pejorative term “farb” (whose origins and meaning are open to debate) is often applied by progressives comparing themselves to these less authentic brethern and sistern (yes, that is a genuine word).

(Full disclosure: my re-enacting club’s philosophical perspective falls smack-dab between these extremes. It is a family-friendly group whose members – whether civilian or military – work hard to present impressions that are authentic, without lice-ridden clothing or possibly catching dysentery! Also, I don’t judge re-enactors that make use of the items listed in the last paragraph.)

I am developing a series of hour-long talks to educate people about aspects of life in Civil War times. (Check out The evolving list of lectures, which can be tailored to particular audiences, addresses topics that I believe will be of interest to many people.

What has all this to do with the posting’s title? Central to “Near as I remember” is making my presentations in first-person. To credibly communicate Civil War times I must “exhort” listeners to accept me as a time traveler, one that can answer questions while looking quizzical when asked about cell phones, airplanes, and the like. Recognizing this has enabled me to, if you will, enflesh a gentleman of the 1860s.

This is more than wearing a woolen uniform, hefting a rifle musket and passing around replica bullets and hardtack. It necessitates describing the past with deep knowledge, confidence and enthusiasm. If I’m to honor the past, first-person is imperative!

I’m curious: have any of you experienced presentations by women or men that are representing the past? What did they do well, or what could they have done better?


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