The term “living history” is possibly one of the most abused in the English language. Living history has been used to justify everything ranging from painstaking recreations of a particular time and place to just an excuse to shoot off guns and blow things up (busting caps and burning powder). Often, we simply use it as an excuse for dressing up in old time clothes and little else. On the flip side, there are those who go the whole route and recreating an entire lifestyle around recreating a past period. Living history covers a multitude of activities ranging in all levels of intensity and there are as many versions of it as there are people engaged in it. Finally, if nothing else, the term gives respectability to what would otherwise be called “reenacting” or more derogatory, play-acting.
For me, living history allows one to get a feel for what things might have been like during the years 1914-18. Now by no means is this a complete experience and it’s lacking many of the basic elements of the First World War like getting killed or maimed, disease, et al. Also, unlike the people we are purporting to represent, we get to go home at the end of the weekend. So yes, it’s not a perfect recreation and nor can it ever be (nor should it be). All we can do is attempt to get a slice of the wartime experience and hopefully learn something from that.
Often termed “experimental archaeology” by academics, living history allows one to gain to greater insights into an historical period. However, for it to really work, the individual must also have done background research, reading various histories and personal accounts as well as having a working knowledge of the material. Many people get so hung up on the material culture to the exclusion of all else and while they may know everything about a certain uniform or weapon, they haven’t any idea as to why those people were fighting or the society/environment that they came from. It’s a “total” experience that requires preparation and one is never “complete” or “done”- there’s always something more to learn and anyone who says that they’ve “got it” is either lying or simply ignorant.
For me, living history is motivated by a desire for personal experience, learning, and growth, not for the benefit of others (although this might occur as a by-product), which is why I personally dislike public events. I recognize the need for them as public relations and recruiting opportunities but not as an end in itself. Also, I detest having to perform for the public, like some animal in a circus (and typically for someone else’s financial profit). Unfortunately, this is all too prevalent in some historic eras, most notably American Civil War and Napoleonic. The best living history is well away from any public.
Other people will have a different take on this and some do this almost solely to educate the public. While it’s a laudable goal, I personally think it’s a waste of time because of having to complete with the all-encompassing nature of modern media combined with revisionist histories that attempt to superimpose modern 21st Centuries sensibilities on past events, something that has no relevance and is not particularly useful.
That said, there’s still a lot of territory to cover out there and I hope to be able to continue on my journey to discover more about the First World War and the role of cavalry such as the 2 Chevauleger.