Tag Archives: Living History

The Dangers of History-Based Play


Bringing History and Visitors Back to Colonial Williamsburg

Curator’s Comment: In the past the American Hysterical Society has been openly critical of the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation’s 2013 and 2014 advertising campaigns (it seems they have deleted the most egregious; we hope it’s because of something we said). The following is our attempt to make amends and offer some helpful suggestions.

As we have noted before, history doesn’t sell. Just ask any site who offers a well-researched horse engine day or tea party, or if that tight stitch count has got ‘em flocking in. If history did sell then our work would be well funded, we would all be rockstars, and Colonial Williamsburg would still be a historic site.

In case you haven’t noticed, Williamsburg has spent the better part of the last year transforming into a low-rent Busch Gardens. Or to quote President & CEO Mitchell Reiss, trying “to do some things we’ve never done before to make this special place even better.”[1] So with tenuous historical connections and what their marketing folks think has mass appeal, the Foundation has added a shooting range, a petting zoo, a doggy mascot, pirates, and an ice skating rink to their “historic” experience.

As Reiss said, “You’ll notice us paying more attention to first-time visitors and families who have chosen to invest their hard earned vacation dollars for a trip to Colonial Williamsburg instead of [Disney’s] Magic Kingdom.” They’re targeting families because they think that’s where the money is. However, most families are too budget conscious to feed Williamsburg’s voracious coffers.

No, the real revenue is in providing extreme lifestyle experiences for underserved audiences looking for the unique, the challenging, and the thrilling.[2] This audience includes masochists, sadists, body modifiers, and mixed martial artists. There’s a lot of money in pain and blood. And Williamsburg is perfectly suited to simultaneously profit from this growing demand while creating historically-grounded interpretation.

This soon-to-be wildly-popular and award-winning program includes: [3]

  • Public Shaming: Did you ever want to let that loved one know you knew about their lies/theft/infidelity/stupidity? Well now you can all while allowing the whole world to share in your pain and righteousness. It’s the eighteenth-century version of Facebook.
  • Standing the Pillory: The stocks are already a popular stop, this would just add the missing ingredient, human drama. Once a prisoner is locked in, his or her ears are nailed to the stock and they are left standing there. Later, just before their allotted time is up, their ears are first sliced off and then they are released. Siblings of all ages, with their mischievous rivalries, will love this one.
  • Flogging: Depending on your tastes, you or a person of your choice can be publicly flogged. It can be for almost any infraction, real or imagined, or just because the experience is so delicious.
  • Branding: You may or may not have committed a felony, but now you can look like you have. Scarification by branding makes tattoos seem as dangerous as body paint.
  • Dueling: You and an opponent of your choice could rent weapons (swords or the more expensive pistols) and, after a five-minute orientation, take your positions on the palace lawn and have at each other. First blood or death, it’s your choice.
  • Public Execution: We’re already heading toward this in modern America, so why not be on the cutting edge? Executions were popular mass entertainment back in the day, and they would draw even larger crowds (and oodles of publicity) today. The best thing about a historically-accurate hanging is that, unlike later nineteenth-century hanging practices where the neck was broken almost immediately, the show could last for several minutes thanks to the short drop drop and slow strangulation. Popular as this will be with spectators, we suggest brushing up your “not it” skills.

Along with being immersive experiences, they are also a fully interactive ones. And boy will they draw a crowd! This has every potential to be the first truly exciting museum program ever.

Each of these ideas brings to bear all of CW’s resources, historic trades to make the nails, weapons, gallows, and rope, educators to help explain the background of each option to participants and guests alike, living history skills to ensure authenticity, and food service to help keep tummies full and wallets empty.

horse tred - Copy

The choice is simple: Does Williamsburg want public programs that look like this…
Source.

William_Hogarth_-_Industry_and_Idleness,_Plate_11;_The_Idle_'Prentice_Executed_at_Tyburn - Copy

…or like this?

We know what you’re thinking: that doing any, much less all, of this would take real audacity. We say it’s less audacious than opening a skating rink on Duke of Gloucester Street and, with a straight face, calling it a “magical experience.”[4]

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1. We truly thought he was going to say “specialer.”

2. And need we mention they are likely first-time visitors?

3. All  medical or coroner’s bills are included in your fees!

4. The Disneyfication isn’t even subtle.


Ask Them How To Duck & Cover Correctly


On the Uselessness of History

Curator’s Comments: Seneca’s On the Shortness of Life, written in 49 AD, proves two things: there have always been people who love historical research and there have always been those who think such inquiries are an unenlightening waste of time. We at the Hysterical Society are concerned that the pendulum of modern public interest in historical research is just beginning to swing towards Seneca’s view. What do you think?

Seneca’s reminder to all historians:
don’t be a bore.

Chapter XIII, from On the Shortness of Life

It would be tedious to mention all the different men who have spent the whole of their life over chess or ball or the practice of baking their bodies in the sun. They are not unoccupied whose pleasures are made a busy occupation. For instance, no one will have any doubt that those are laborious triflers who spend their time on useless literary problems, of whom even among the Romans there is now a great number. It was once a foible confined to the Greeks to inquire into what number of rowers Ulysses had, whether the Iliad or the Odyssey was written first, whether moreover they belong to the same author, and various other matters of this stamp, which, if you keep them to yourself, in no way pleasure your secret soul, and, if you publish them, make you seem more of a bore than a scholar. But now this vain passion for learning useless things has assailed the Romans also. In the last few days I heard someone telling who was the first Roman general to do this or that; Duilius was the first who won a naval battle, Curius Dentatus was the first who had elephants led in his triumph. Still, these matters, even if they add nothing to real glory, are nevertheless concerned with signal services to the state; there will be no profit in such knowledge, nevertheless it wins our attention by reason of the attractiveness of an empty subject. We may excuse also those who inquire into this—who first induced the Romans to go on board ship. It was Claudius, and this was the very reason he was surnamed Caudex, because among the ancients a structure formed by joining together several boards was called a caudex, whence also the Tables of the Law are called codices, and, in the ancient fashion, boats that carry provisions up the Tiber are even to-day called codicariae. Doubtless this too may have some point—the fact that Valerius Corvinus was the first to conquer Messana, and was the first of the family of the Valerii to bear the surname Messana because be had transferred the name of the conquered city to himself, and was later called Messala after the gradual corruption of the name in the popular speech. Perhaps you will permit someone to be interested also in this—the fact that Lucius Sulla was the first to exhibit loosed lions in the Circus, though at other times they were exhibited in chains, and that javelin-throwers were sent by King Bocchus to despatch them? And, doubtless, this too may find some excuse—but does it serve any useful purpose to know that Pompey was the first to exhibit the slaughter of eighteen elephants in the Circus, pitting criminals against them in a mimic battle? He, a leader of the state and one who, according to report, was conspicuous among the leaders of old for the kindness of his heart, thought it a notable kind of spectacle to kill human beings after a new fashion. Do they fight to the death? That is not enough! Are they torn to pieces? That is not enough! Let them be crushed by animals of monstrous bulk! Better would it be that these things pass into oblivion lest hereafter some all-powerful man should learn them and be jealous of an act that was nowise human. O, what blindness does great prosperity cast upon our minds! When he was casting so many troops of wretched human beings to wild beasts born under a different sky, when he was proclaiming war between creatures so ill matched, when he was shedding so much blood before the eyes of the Roman people, who itself was soon to be forced to shed more. he then believed that he was beyond the power of Nature. But later this same man, betrayed by Alexandrine treachery, offered himself to the dagger of the vilest slave, and then at last discovered what an empty boast his surname was.

But to return to the point from which I have digressed, and to show that some people bestow useless pains upon these same matters—the man I mentioned related that Metellus, when he triumphed after his victory over the Carthaginians in Sicily, was the only one of all the Romans who had caused a hundred and twenty captured elephants to be led before his car; that Sulla was the last of the Roman’s who extended the pomerium, which in old times it was customary to extend after the acquisition of Italian but never of provincial, territory. Is it more profitable to know this than that Mount Aventine, according to him, is outside the pomerium for one of two reasons, either because that was the place to which the plebeians had seceded, or because the birds had not been favourable when Remus took his auspices on that spot—and, in turn, countless other reports that are either crammed with falsehood or are of the same sort? For though you grant that they tell these things in good faith, though they pledge themselves for the truth of what they write, still whose mistakes will be made fewer by such stories? Whose passions will they restrain? Whom will they make more brave, whom more just, whom more noble-minded? My friend Fabianus used to say that at times he was doubtful whether it was not better not to apply oneself to any studies than to become entangled in these.


A Guide to Two Williamsburgs – Colonial Denizens vs. The Hipsters

Actually From the Vanity Fair Tumblr


Borat Visits a Living History Museum, or “Do You Understand What a Historic Site Is?”

We feel Borat should be the final test before an interpreter is allowed to interact with the public.


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