Circle Jerks

Have you ever noticed reenactors during public hours standing around in a circle talking to each other when they’re supposed to be talking with visitors? To the casual observer this might seem like a contradiction, since reenactors are quick to claim that they’re there to interpret for the public but then literally turn their backs on them.

"Keep talking, and no one will bother us with those pesky history questions."

“Just keep talking and no one will bother us with those pesky history questions.”

However, reenactors aren’t ignoring their purpose or the public. Recent research reveals that standing in a circle formation is actually very accurate. It’s a little-known exercise called “Repel Officer.” Though there are earlier references to it, here is the earliest known description, taken from the Shoemaker’s Regiment, Tenderfoot Company’s orderly book of 1812:

Despite the clarity of the documentation, reenactors continue to farb up this formation. Instead of discussing their duty, visitors can hear them talking about last weekend’s game or that Saturday night party in camp, all while watching them do such historically accurate activities as smoking modern cigarettes or checking their cell phones.

Nevertheless, such circle formations are seen during most time periods and are, as many visitors can attest, very effective at keep reenactors from straining themselves.


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

9 responses to “Circle Jerks

  • Roger Fuller

    Maybe they got sick of having to answer the increasingly knowledgeable public who ask, “Hey, why are you wearing machine-sewn uniforms?”

    • T.H. Gray

      We’re guessing by your comment that you are a self-professed hardcore reenactor. We’re pretty sure mainstream and hardcore reenactors are equally adept at this maneuver. As for you comment, we respectfully disagree with the premise, but that is for another post.

      Thanks for visiting the Hysterical Society.

      T.H. Gray, Director-Curator

      • Roger W. Fuller

        I strongly disagree. In my experience, the hardcore reenactors are the ones that actively engage the public and interpret the history for them in ways that engage the public more than the usual shoot-em-ups which bear little resemblance to reality. Camp life, social history, training, etc, get explained and in ways that the public find useful and not “interpretainment” Seas of white canvas, dining flys and massve field kitchens and soldiers who are too old, and bearded and too heavy do not show the public how it really was. The public are not as stupid as reenactors would like to think they are. Sometimes the person asking you a question knows more about the overall subject than we do.

  • Scott Tomlinson

    Personally, I do NOT re-enact for the sake of talking to the public. In fact, I wish we had events without them.

    BTW, I know all 4 of the guys in that photo.

  • Niels

    Alas, too spot on – even for good reenactment groups. It’s certainly not the goal for many, though. While, sadly, some units seem to prefer to have NO interaction with the public (the stereotype of all public visitors being morons not worthy of our time, being far too common), many other units and individuals do earnest seek to educate – themselves and the public. Some of them simply aren’t trained enough in how to do it effectively and, much like the officer-dodging phenomenon, unconsciously avoid it.
    But, we’re not all like that.
    Love your Bierce-like definition for “hardcore” — though, by matter of course, you lump assholes with non-assholes.
    Many of us care about the material culture AND the education we disseminate and derive.
    And, yet, there are some who are probably doing the best public service by not interacting with them. For some, it really is just about dressing up funny.

    • T.H. Gray


      Fair and just comments, all. Our intention, as you may have guessed, isn’t to pick on anybody, but to prod everyone.

      Thanks for your comments and for visiting the Hysterical Society.

      T.H. Gray, Director-Curator

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