On Being a Mobile Monument: Historical Reenactments and Commemorations

Part of the Reenactment History book series (REH)


A few years ago I was at an American Civil War reenactment ‘talking authenticity’ — as re-enactors do — with someone who claimed to be re-enacting her great-grandmother. She spoke to me about the benefits of researching a ‘real, historical person’ instead of portraying a generic character of ‘someone from the Civil War’. She firmly believed an historical person could be quite accurately portrayed in both costume and character, particularly if there were surviving photographs, diaries, or letters. She also recommended researching such things as ‘local newspapers of the times’ to gain a contextual understanding of the events and issues ‘your character would have known about’. In her case, she could re-enact an ancestor. For others without this connection, she recommended choosing an ‘unknown’ historical figure and researching them in detail. Then she proudly said to me that she felt as though she were a ‘mobile monument’ to her great-grandmother’s memory.1


Local History Historical Accuracy Urban Open Space Authentic Stage Australian History 
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  1. 1.
    S. Gapps (2003) ‘Performing the Past: A Cultural History of Historical Re-enactment’ (Ph.D. dissertation, University of Technology, Sydney), pp. 57–8.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    See J. Cullen (1995) The Civil War in Popular Culture: A Reusable Past (Washington DC: Smithsonian Institution Press)Google Scholar
  3. D. Hall (1994) ‘Civil War Reenactors and the Postmodern Sense of History’, The Journal of American Culture, 17:3, pp. 7–11.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. 3.
    Gapps, ‘Performing the Past’; S. Gapps (2003) ‘Authenticity Matters: Historical Re-enactment and Australian Attitudes to the Past’, Australian Cultural History, 22, pp. 105–16.Google Scholar
  5. 4.
    See S. K. Inglis (1998) Sacred Places: War Memorials in the Australian Landscape (Melbourne: Miegunyah Press).Google Scholar
  6. 5.
    See L. Ramsay-Silver (2002) The Battle of Vinegar Hill: Australia’s Irish Rebellion (Sydney: Watermark Press)Google Scholar
  7. A. Whittaker (1994) Unfinished Revolution: United Irishmen in New South Wales 1800–1810 (Sydney: Crossing Press).Google Scholar
  8. 10.
    H. Schwarz (1996) The Culture of the Copy: Striking Likenesses, Unreasonable Facsimilies (New York: Zone Books), pp. 273–5.Google Scholar
  9. 12.
    Gapps, ‘Performing the Past’; Gapps, ‘Authenticity Matters’; S. Gapps (2007) ‘Adventures in the Colony: Big Brother meets Survivor in Period Costume’, Film and History, 37:1, pp. 67–72.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. 13.
    N. Lupu (2003) ‘Memory Vanished, Absent, and Confined: The Countermemorial Project in 1980s and 1990s Germany’, History & Memory, 15:2, p. 131.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. 16.
    Irwin-Zarecka (1994) Frames of Remembrance: The Dynamics of Collective Memory (New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction Publishers), p. 150.Google Scholar

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© Stephen Gapps 2010

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