I Know You Are, But What Am I? Part II – Reenactors…or…Whatever…

Are these reenactors mainstream, progressive, or farbs? Your answer will depend on which you think you are.

History people, that is those who pursue history in any form, love to rename themselves. As we’ve said before (see here), museum folks give themselves wordy and obtuse job titles all the time. Reenactors do it as well. Like museum people, reenactors do it to make what they do sound more impressive. Unlike museum people though, reenactors do it to continue their endless game of authenticity one-upmanship that is the heart of modern reenacting.

When reenacting was new, we endlessly reminded others that we were more earnest (that is authentic) than buckskinners and personae (members of the Society for Creative Anachronisms). As we began to take the hobby more seriously and we realized that we did more than just recreate battles, we started calling ourselves living historians. When it was pointed out that any historian who was alive was a living historian, we began to call ourselves living history interpreters.

Not satisfied with living history interpreter, a few overzealous reenactors adopted the more academic experimental archeologists. Sometimes they used the almost synonymous experimental anthropologists. Fortunately, while they crop up every now and again, these academic terms didn’t last long.

More recently reenactors began to identify themselves as either mainstream or hard-core. When hard-core began to take on a family-unfriendly association, they began to call themselves progressives – though they still didn’t like dining flies or women in camp.

Both of these are distinct from a third type of reenactor: the farb. No one self-identifies as a farb, but we all know them when we see them. To help there is even a Facebook page called Forget About Reseach Based (F.A.R.B.). Their patented “farb finger” photographs will help you identify which reenactor is the farb and which is the douchebag.

Despite their revealing natures, all of these terms made some sense. Until now…

There is a new name for the uber-serious reenactor: Living history practitioner (it’s contagious, see here). We have to give credit to the author of this post. She’s at least honest enough to admit that she prefers this term to help separate the reenacting wheat from the chaff (and we know which she and her friends are).

All of these names are lost on the general public. The public doesn’t go to living history events to see living history practitioners – they go to reenactments to see reenactors. And for better or worse in the public’s mind if you wear funny clothes, you are a reenactor.

Since all this name calling isn’t for the public anyway, we have an opportunity to come up with an honest name for what we do as reenactors. With that in mind, we here at the American Hysterical Society humbly suggest the more inclusive “Recreated History Delivery Specialist.” Or there’s always the more honest “Obsessive-Competitive Narcissist.”


About T.H. Gray

T.H. Gray is the self-appointed court jester and Dr. Demento for the history museum field. A lifelong museum professional and reenactor, he is a graduate of the prestigious Peale-Barnum Public History Museum Studies Program. Until 2011, when the AHS hired him away, he was on staff at the Benjamin Dover Memorial Museum & Swimming Pool ("Our History is All Wet!"). He remembers when museums were still about history, science, and art. BTW, all of these posts say they are by T.H. Gray because he can't turn off the byline. Credit, when due, is given. View all posts by T.H. Gray

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