More on Re-enactment ...
Some time ago at Cliopatria, when Oberlin re-enacted the great 19th century debates over slavery at Lane Theological Seminary we discussed re-enactment as a way of doing history. Perhaps it's time to talk about it again. I'm a bit skeptical, though re-enactment is central to the western religious traditions and significant in popular forms apart from them. There is a clue to the popularity of re-enactment in Oberlin's choice of topic, because the Lane debates were crucial to the founding of the institution and their themes still resonate with us. Whether in secular or religious terms, re-enactment seems to me to be most powerful when it reminds us of what originally shaped a community of people: the children of Israel, the earliest Christian community, and the people of Allah. More particularly, a community like Oberlin re-enacted an event which called an institution into being and reminded it of its traditions.
Apart from administering holy communion, the closest I've come to"re-enactment" was singing in the chorus of Verdi's"Macbeth." My big scene was a sword fight with Macbeth in which I took a terrific fall. Got real good at it, if I do say so myself. Over at Crooked Timber, Belle Waring generated an interesting discussion of battle re-enactments. Those from both the English civil war and the American civil war get mentions. Several commentators at Crooked Timber think something less innocent than re-enactment goes on at these events. Then, there is this remarkable British site which schedules your events and outfits you for a price in eras ranging over the last 2000 years of western civilization. Need a full suit of body armor, a targe, or a crossbow? No need going to war ill-equipped. Now, about those Cliopatriarch robes and miters that I had on order .... Nothing gaudy, you understand; still something grand and suggestive of authority.
Update: It was bound to happen sooner or later. The Cranky One is blogging a battle re-enactment this afternoon at Hobart and William Smith.
Ed Schmitt - 4/17/2004
There are credible studies that suggest role playing produces deeper learning than other many more common forms of instruction, i.e. lectures and assigned readings. Clearly, it needs to be guided and brought to some point of reflection to do so, but I find my students really do gain something from role playing exercises. As with anything, they get out of it what they put into it.
Ralph E. Luker - 4/16/2004
Try not to get that new robe of yours soiled!
Michael C Tinkler - 4/16/2004
They're aiming their trebuchets from one corner of the Quad toward the house of the President of the Colleges! That's a sign of a restive junior faculty for you....
Ralph E. Luker - 4/16/2004
On your last point, Richard, the "free soil" argument in the North was always tainted with a notion of western lands being a reserve for white people.
Richard Henry Morgan - 4/16/2004
I've just finished reading something that really blew me away. In a recent New Yorker there's an article by Burkhard Bilger, which refers to Engerman and Fogel's Time on the Cross.
I remember back in the 70's how it produced a firestorm, but at one debate I attended, an economics professor turned it to good use as an argument that explained apartheid -- apartheid was good business for the apartheid regime of South Africa. The argument has its weaknesses, but it is interesting.
Yet, in Bilger's article, there is reference to Richard Steckel's work -- which I haven't read, and can't endorse. Anyway, Bilger summarizes Steckel's work thusly:
"... adult slaves [in America], Steckel found, were nearly as tall as free whites, and three to five inches taller than the average Africans of the time." (p.41, April 5, 2004, New Yorker).[bracketed insert mine]
Slavery studies have had their fashions. There was the bizarre claim, from the 50's, by a fashionably left-wing Columbia University professor (whose name adorns a library or reading room at the school of international studies there) that Brazilian slavery was more humane than American -- because the model laws of Alfonso the Wise prohibited cruelty to slaves!! I kid you not!!
This was pretty effectively trashed by Leslie Rout -- the great telling datum being that the Brazilian slave population had no natural increase (the total number of slaves at emancipation equalled, roughly, the total number of imports).
Slavery, we can now admit, was and is morally, spiritually, and psychologically cruel, inhumane, and immoral. It doesn't need invented facts to support that conclusion.
Yet, if I remember correctly, it was only banned in England in 1772, which didn't ban it in its colonies. I once had the occasion to be lectured by a Frenchman on how France banned slavery so much sooner than the US, only to discover, through my own research, that, though France had early banned it in mainland France, France didn't ban it in St. Domingue until they actually lost St. Domingue (now there's a real moral stance), and that Napoleon had immediately reinstated slavery when France recaptured it. The history of slavery, and its economics, is always more complicated than most let on. For instance, Oregon banned slavery, but they also banned free blacks!!
Michael C Tinkler - 4/16/2004
There are summer-camps for wannabe gladiators in Italy (in Italian, so it's not aimed at the tourist market).
- Historian Fernando Prado on quest to find remains of Cervantes
- Historian shines a light on the dark heart of Australia's nationhood
- Female historian says human rights museum censored her
- Japanese historians slam sex-slave apology review
- Stephanie Coontz: "Marriages require much more maturity than they once did."