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Museum Professionals and Reenactors
by Charlie McCulloh

Recently I had a misunderstanding with a museum curator. This person called himself a “Museum Professional” and pointed out that it was conduct such as mine that made “Museum Professionals harbor ill feelings about reenactors”. At first I was shocked, as I had abided by all verbal agreements that were set forth initially. Then I begin to think of all the times that I have run into attitudes that are similar among “Museum Professionals”, Park Rangers, Scholars and Authors.  A general disdain for “grown ups playing Cowboys and Indians” and the over riding smug feeling that what a reenactor does has no relevance to “real” historical study. I will not say I have encountered that attitude from all I have dealt with, but I have noticed it in quite a few of these so called “professionals”.

So why are we treated this way? Admittedly there are MANY yahoos in reenacting that have never opened a book on the subject of the Civil War. Many reenactors dress and display  the most unperiod ludicrous behavior. Sometimes this makes me cringe also, I won’t deny that as fact. Still, are we to be dismissed as a group of morons incapable of obtaining knowledge? Are the “professionals” the only ones able, or even allowed to interpret our past? I don’t know about you but I resent that attitude. I hold Professional Registrations and Licences in several states and I would never think of posturing with the attitude that I knew ALL THERE WAS TO KNOW about my profession, much less don an imperial condesending attitude about research or knowledge. Part of the mandate of my Registrations is to increase the knowledge in my profession. These postures by “professionals” puzzle me. I truly don’t understand the attitude that wants to control knowledge. I admit that I have heard the axiom of “knowledge is power”, but the obstruction of a free flow of information should not be tolerated.

I continually see reenactors, both advanced and novice, freely give of their time and MONEY to historic sites, museums, parks and schools. I know of NO composite group out there that gives more support to the institutions and people who dismiss them as “jokes”. To these “professionals” I would pose these questions. Who is there to support your programs, give contributions, and buy your books? What is the first group to raise a cry when a battlefield is encroached, a budget cut, or a cemetery compromised? What group, as a whole, tries to raise the general public’s awareness of the plight of “History” today?

The general public? They haven’t wanted to know anything about History since their D in high school.

I have in the past heard reenactors say of Historic Sites.....”yeah, they love reenactors....as long as they’re making a donation”. I have heard others say......”the object of the museum is to deny access to information”. I had never considered these comments as valid, until recently. I now must reexamine the basic fundamental relationships of reenactors and institutions. Never mind the fact that I have spent several thousand dollars on uniforms, weapons and appurtenances. Disregard the fact that I have spent both time AND money traveling to support historic sites and historic causes. Forget that I routinely spend from 1-4 hours every day either sewing uniforms, making accouterments, researching facts or just plain reading comprehensive historical books. Let all of that be discounted and I would still resent the idea that I “can’t be trusted” to research and interpret our history. Worse yet, that I would be denied access to research material because I was a reenactor and considered “flaky”!

I originally entered reenacting to experience the feelings of the soldiers I had read about for 35 years. I wanted to know what it was like to struggle in a left wheel with all your gear in the hot sun as the noise and the heat smothers you like a blanket. It wasn’t real to me, no matter how many first hand soldiers accounts I read, until I did it myself. Sure, I’m a reenactor, but I have experienced things that the large majority of “museum professionals”, academics and authors will never know. Secure in that knowledge, I don’t give a damn about what the “professionals” think. You shouldn’t either. Keep researching. Keep learning.