Trying something new in Adobe Spark.
A year after moving, Virginia feels like home, even as I continue to experience accent-based misunderstandings and yearn for different apples. But if home is where the heart is, my home is split between the place where my kid grew up and goes to college, and where I live now. After having all vacations cancelled (thanks, Fairfax County Jury System), we scheduled one for the end of the summer, a chance to visit friends, antique (and buy a new school wardrobe for a college sophomore).
The trip hinged on the Militia Days event at Old Sturbridge Village, with Drunk Tailor mustering as a member of the Oxford Light Infantry or “Ollies.” The OLI has a ridiculously shiny and ornamented shako, which contributes to the appeal of the impression. The early Federal-era militia units certainly appeal to me, with gold buttons, chain, tassels, and plenty of eagles everywhere. There’s a lot of visual myth-making to unpack there, and the fact that the muster re-enacts a sham battle makes it ever so much more so wonderful and New England. This is meta-enacting (or re-re-enacting), and I am all for it.
A new time period meant a new dress. And a new bonnet. And new hair– that last complicated by the new summer haircut. (I had a wool gown from the Turkey Shoot several years ago, but wool in August at Sturbridge is possible but not recommended.) So, what to wear? I remembered some lightweight chintz gowns in the Kyoto Costume Institute collections, and happily there’s one on their website (my copy of the book is still in storage). While I prefer the audacity of many of the reproduction cotton prints, the hand of the quilting cottons is often heavier than I want, so I ordered a print from India– one that has been used for many other dresses in different time periods.
The pattern is a straight-up version of the Past Patterns Lowell Mill Operative’s gown. The first 1830 gown I made was from the State Historical Society of Wisconsin pattern, which did not fit as well over the collar bones; the Past Patterns neckline resolves well and fits like a dream– the only change I would make the next time around is to make the back pieces smaller. I had way more overlap than I really needed, but otherwise, I was lucky that this required no adjustments to fit pretty well. Every now and then, it’s nice to have a break from drafting my own patterns and fighting with fit.
These have been a tough couple of years. We are, once again it seems, in a period of polarization and increasing political violence. In times like these, when disagreements flare brighter and behavioural norms are changing, even the things we do for fun can be affected. From online fights that turn nastier than ever to onsite behaviour that runs the gamut from passive-aggressive to hostile, the real world creeps into our fantasy worlds. I have experienced and seen behaviour that I find unacceptable. It was subtle, but not acceptable. When I posted about it online, a lively discussion ensued.
From that, an idea was born: Sharon Burnston suggested a Code of Conduct, which I heartily endorsed. Drawing on her experience organizing and managing events and groups, Sharon wrote a draft code of conduct. Now, with edits and suggestions from others, it is available on her website.
“We are all here at this site/event for the same purpose, to portray events that happened here in the past for the benefit of the public, and for our own enjoyment. We agree to follow the site’s rules for fire safety, gunpowder and weapon safety, curfew, alcohol consumption, and whatever other restrictions they require of reenactors. Just as we have agreed to adhere to standards for our clothing and our kit, it is appropriate that we agree to adhere to standards for our behavior. The standards for our behavior are modern, not period. We are interpreting history, not re-creating historical attitudes to class, gender, or race. We are 21st century people, and 21st century expectations apply.
In its simplest terms, treat everyone else as you would want them to treat you. Don’t be a jerk. But to break it down into specifics, and in order for this community to feel welcoming to the largest possible population, we expect everyone to endorse the following standards of behavior. Anyone who cannot adhere to these simple rules will not be invited to future events.”
Don’t be a jerk.
Seems so simple, right? Apparently not for everyone, because not everyone embraced a fundamental grade-school lesson:
“I will take responsibility for both my actions and my feelings. I have the right to have my feelings respected, I have the right to be heard and understood, I have the right not to feel pressured or browbeaten. I extend the same rights to all other reenactors and to the public.”
For me, this presents an interesting conundrum. You see, I kinda started this when I announced online:
Now, this is in fact a wimpy way to deal with a person who I think treated me pretty shabbily at an event, and who made clearly misogynistic comments at that event, and has posted white nationalist stuff on social media. A quicker-witted person than I would follow Sharon’s precept six:
“I will call out these inappropriate behaviors in others. If I see something, I will say something – either to the offender directly or to an authority figure – a captain, event planner/organizer, or someone I trust. I will stand in solidarity with my fellow reenactors and pledge to stand up to bullies, abusers, and other unpleasant behavior to ensure the safety and comfort of those around me.”
This last is easier for some than for others. It gets easier when one can believe that one will be listened to, heard, and taken seriously. And that is not on the person reporting: that’s on the person hearing. When someone’s feelings are dismissed, or another’s actions excused (he’s a good guy; he’s just insecure), the status quo is maintained, the ranks secured, and the world unchanged. It will take all of us to make places safe and pleasant to be it. A code of conduct we can all agree to is a good place to start.
Other folks have covered aspects of this past weekend at Fort Ticonderoga, leaving me with little that needs adding but much to look into. Portraying a British servant is more intuitive for me than portraying an American: the hierarchy of the British is more explicit than the American, especially in a military context. We mimic the British structure, and while I considered that running a fort’s servant set might/should/would mimic that of a Big House, I wonder if that’s true.
How did a set of servants from different places, answering to different masters, interact? What kind of rivalries developed? And who had ultimate below-stairs authority? It’s been a long time since I experienced workplace politics, so the past weekend gave me much to ponder about how the lower sorts managed– and managed up.
For me, the name of the serving game is managing the people you serve to make your own life easier. Servants had so much to do– as many of us do in real life– that the only way to manage the workload was to– well, manage the workload, or at least the person who set it.
As John Brown’s housekeeper, I ran a household of several (three+) servants and six residents. Even a household that small required extensive stair climbing and coordination, even without a working kitchen! The Browns never had more than three or four household servants we could document, which again makes me wonder about the actual number of servants a complement of New England officers would have.
Thus far, I’ve found good quantification of servants in Philadelphia households in 1775, but have yet to crack the code on New England or Continental Army servants, so more hours on JSTOR await.
No matter what one ultimately decides the research shows about the number of servants and their roles in an American occupied fort, I know I spent the day more immersed than I have been in a long time. Fort Ticonderoga provided a picturesque backdrop, and my body provided a four-dimensional pain experience reminding me of the tribulations of women in the <cough> period </cough>. I spent the majority the day (the part I was awake, anyway) experiencing the full joys of being female and still fertile. The more I read about archaeology of the 18th century, particularly in the privies and trash pits, the more I think nearly everyone in the past felt pretty awful most of the time. If that hunch is correct, I nailed Saturday despite appearing in undress (which I can at least document to Sandby at Sandpit Gate).
Not inaccurate or badly researched history, of course, but the “Mad, Bad, and Dangerous to Know” kind of history.
Without wading into the murky waters of canceled reenactments (not my time periods– yet!) and the politicization of historical facts, I advocate the recreation of the “bad” people of history. Not the Hitlers and Himmlers and Stalins and Amins, but the everyday bad. The lazy. The feckless. The annoyed. The I’m-just-now-waking-up-to-the-bad-choice-I-made.
I think about these people– the ones who slack off while working, the ones who steal shirts, assault officers, throw bones out of barracks doors— periodically, especially when an event is being planned. It’s not that I don’t want to work, mind you: I enjoy working, even the cleaning and scrubbing of history. But it strikes me, especially in summer, that we approach the recreation of history with such excellent intentions. We will Do Our Best. We will Lend A Hand. We will be Always Cheerful.
Why? Why do we not represent the people who shirked? Why do we not represent the people who resented being told what to do, and when? Why do we not take into account our industrialized notions of labor (shifts, clocks, production levels( when we step backwards into a period where there was no factory whistle to set the pace?
Granted, within a military environment, there are rules, regulations, clocks, and enforcers. But I cannot help thinking that the pace of labor, the speed and drive with which people tackled tasks, was different one hundred, two hundred, three hundred, years ago. Of course there were strivers and doers: the American army in the Revolution was populated by adherents to piety and discipline. But it’s clear from the orderly books that there were miscreants and slackers, too.
And I’m not saying everyone should be a slacker, but you know as well as I do that every workplace today has a slacker or two: the long-term federal employee who watches football at work; the retail clerk whose breaks last a little longer every time; the shelver in the library who catches a nap whilst shelf reading. There are consequences (usually) for those (in)actions, and that’s kind of the point. The slattern and the slacker of history throw into higher relief the purpose of the discipline an army (or housekeeper or master cabinet maker) is trying to maintain. When we all strive to do our best, we lose the depth of interpretation that doing “bad” history can provide.