Debating Reenacting

Over the past several weeks there’s been a lively debate going on about reenacting in the blogosphere sparked by a commentary offered by Glenn LaFantaise, who is no stranger to stirring up controversy.  As one might guess, it was not long before various folks here and there responded to this provocative (and provoking) essay.  Among the more thoughtful responses is that presented by Dr. Timothy Orr, a history professor at Old Dominion University (in turn the comments section makes for equally good reading).  As Orr has also reenacted, he has a somewhat different perspective on the activity.

It’s always a little disappointing when these discussions fall back on the creations of various stereotypes, bearing in this instance the label of “academic historian” and “reenactor.”  The comments that come from constructing such strawmen tend to embitter the conversation.

I’ve never reenacted, and I don’t have any interest in doing so.  I know of some academic historians who have reenacted, and I’ve seen a diversity of reenactors whose attitudes on issues that tend to be hot button ones with academic historians vary, so it would be hard to generalize about the activity.  Personally, I’m always a little leery of those “living historian” labels, as there is wide variation in the quality of the information imparted by reenactors to the general public (as reenactors themselves admit).  Then again, the same is true among some of my colleagues.  Maybe this is another one of those stone soup discussions.

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The Sunday Question: What if Jefferson Davis Had Died in 1864?

The Dahlgren Raid remains one of the most interesting incidents of the Civil War, in large part because people still debate whether Ulric Dahlgren was on a mission to capture or kill Jefferson Davis.  We always talk about what if Lincoln had lived … but what if Dahlgren and his men had penetrated the Richmond defenses and gotten to the Confederate White House, encountered Davis, and in the resulting effort to capture him, killed him?  How would history have changed?