Finding Our Place
|Photo: Wilson Freeman, Drifting Focus Photography|
"Just a few bad apples."
Reenacting And Race
Presenting Race And Gender
So first, what is your goal? If you want to talk about it simply because "it needs to be talked about," there's a higher chance you'll get it wrong. Develop a clear goal--what you want your audience to get out of your presentation--before you work out the rest of the details. Three examples include: "women played a major role in the late-18th century army," "the White House--a symbol of a "free" nation--was built on the backs of slaves," or "the first black people in British North America arrived in chains, but were probably hired as indentured servants and eventually granted freedom by the Jamestown settlers."
After determining a goal, you should work out the details of your presentation--what you plan to explain to your audience. Within that though, you need to first consider two things: context and the history. When you first start your presentation, you should explain the role of race or gender in the society you're teaching about. It's often helpful to make connections to today. For example, if the society in the time period that you're representing supported the institution of slavery, mention that to your audience. Explain that although slavery was later abolished, issues around race are still prevalent. It's often also helpful if you explain here that while still prevalent, racism is abhorrent and none of the historical ideals of racism are accepted at your historical site. Similarly, gender can be contextualized by explaining that women did not have the same rights as men, and while we have made some strides in fixing this, it is still a patriarchal and sexist society. Pointing out that sexism is not tolerated here is a significant part of the context that you create. Establishing context is important as it sets the tone for your presentation while also teaching historical perspectives (i.e. "then" versus "now").
Once the context is explained, the history should naturally follow. This is usually the easy part for the living historian who has read-up on the topic. However, I do advise that if you plan to talk about race or gender, that the sources you draw from should be legitimate and unbiased and that you read many sources to get a wider perspective. As I wrote earlier, I recommend not just reading about historical race and gender, but also modern issues that relate to both. Knowing what to say and how to phrase things derives primarily from reading current publications on race and gender issues today.
The last planning step that I recommend is the "debrief." This is perhaps as crucial as establishing the context. This is the point after relating the history that you conclude your presentation, offer a "so what," and relate this back to today. This is when you remind your audience that everything you presented on happened X-number of years ago, but parts of that history still remain.
I recommend following this step-by-step planning process for any program or presentation, regardless of content. It basically follows the office presentation format of introduction, main points, and conclusion. When discussing sensitive issues though, each part needs to be meticulously planned so as to not offend the audience or relate inaccurate information, and because you represent living history. An audience that leaves an insensitive presentation will discredit not only your knowledge but the wider community of living historians (the example offered by Vice comes back to mind).
Walking The Fine Line
You Represent Living History
|Photo: Alexa Price|
- Never forget that you and everyone around you are 21st century people who deserve respect.
- Remember to approach modern sensitive issues with the awareness that they demand.
- Do your research, and not just of historical things, but modern issues such as race and gender that may spill over into living history.
- Experimental Archaeology: On Drying, Curing, and Aging Tobacco