The Authentic Civilian Manifesto
Or, How To Be Awesome, In 17 Simple Steps.
Many, many moons ago, a wonderful historic researcher and living history enthusiast named Mrs Susan Lyons Hughes wrote this simple point-by-point description of a very useful attitude for any living history enthusiast. It is shared here, word for word, with her permission. Upon reading it through again, I am struck by the applicability of it now–no need for updates, even a decade-and-a-half later! The attitude described in this list works beautifully for any living history enthusiast. Substitute your favorite region or era for “Civil War,” as needed.
As November is a month for thanksgiving, let’s give thanks for:
THE AUTHENTIC CIVILIAN’S MANIFESTO
© Susan Lyons Hughes
1. I am committed to developing and practicing the most historically accurate portrayal of a civilian during the American Civil War now possible, independent of my husband/spouse/significant other.
2. The only limitations I place upon the accuracy of my impression are due to a prudent concern for maintaining modern standards of health and safety, and those limitations naturally enforced by lack of information resulting from the passage of time since the Civil War.
3. I obtain the most historically accurate clothing, equipment, and other relevant items available to me. I insist upon the use of proper materials and construction techniques in all reproduction items. I handle my finances in a manner that will prevent financial considerations from limiting the accuracy of my impression.
4. I recognize that many vital aspects of Civil War civilian life – terror and wounds on a battlefield near my home, the sights of death on the battlefield or in the hospital, diseases, and much else – cannot be re-created effectively in a living history context. I do not see this failing as an excuse to be lax about other aspects of my impression, but as a challenge to insure that all I can portray is presented as accurately as possible.
5. My impression is based upon serious research into and careful analysis of reliable sources of information about the experiences of civilians during the mid-19th Century. I recognize the need to employ the historian’s skills, including the ability to evaluate possible sources of information. I place considerable reliance upon documented research conducted by others, but I do not base my impression upon the claims of those who manufacture goods for the reenacting market, reenacting traditions and customs, superficial or outdated publications, entertainment media, or other suspect sources.
6. I am prepared to change my impression to incorporate improvements dictated by new historical information as it becomes available to me. I recognize that our understanding of the details of history changes over time. I welcome constructive discussion of such matters, and I share information freely.
7. I portray the Civil War civilian as my knowledge of history leads me to believe is accurate for a particular scenario. This may include altering my impression, depending upon the event scenario, and I am willing to do the research to create an impression that is accurate for the time and place being portrayed. My impression may reflect regional variations in clothing and equipment and changes over time during the war. I can vary my personal impression to suit differing locations and dates of depicted events.
8. I recognize that for the vast majority of civilians during the Civil War, the impact of the war was felt “at home,” and that to re-create civilian life accurately, opportunities for civilian activities at traditional battle reenactments will often be limited. I am committed to developing living history opportunities at venues besides traditional battle reenactments in order to more accurately portray the lives of civilians. This does not mean that I cannot or will not attend battle reenactments, but that I will not try to impose an inaccurate civilian presence at a military scenario when it is not appropriate.
9. I recognize that a successful impression cannot be superficial. My objective is not to conceal modern items but to re-create a historic time and place in detail. Therefore, my impression is as accurate and complete as I can make it on every level – including all of my clothing and the contents of my pockets, carpetbags, &c. Further, I am familiar with the material culture of the mid-19th United States in general, and not just with objects related directly to the military, or to objects related to civilians who may have been associated with the military.
10. While portraying a Civil War civilian I eat food that simulates as closely as possible the food available to the people in the situation being depicted, which includes food which might have been in season as well as available in the region. However, I do not endanger my health by consuming food known to be dangerous. I dispose of human waste in a safe manner.
11. In pursuit of the complete Civil War civilian experience, I am willing to take part in accurately staged scenarios that accurately reflect activities of the period. I learn as much as I can about the details of these activities so that I can portray them realistically. If called upon to do so, I am willing to continue the living history experience around the clock during events.
12. I am committed to learning about antebellum and wartime civilian life to better understand the historical context of the mid-19th century, and to engage in realistic interaction with serious military reenactors that are appropriate to the time and place. I will not live in the military camps, and I will enter the military camps only with an escort, and only with a period-appropriate reason for doing so. I will base my interaction with military reenactors upon historic research appropriate to the scenario time and place being depicted.
13. I employ first-person living history techniques whenever appropriate. I take great care to avoid behavior, language, and comments that might disrupt accurate living history activities. I strive to attain a mental attitude appropriate to the person I portray when in character.
14. I do not “hide my candle under a bushel.” I take advantage of situations that allow me to share my knowledge of the realities of Civil War civilian life with fellow living history enthusiasts and with the public. I participate in living history activities, especially at smaller events, and in educational programs.
15. I see “mainstream” reenactors as potential converts to living history at higher levels of historical accuracy, and I avoid conflict with them. I conduct my relations with them in a manner consistent with the behavior expected from mid-19th century gentlemen and ladies. However, I do maintain my own high standards of excellence for portraying Civil War civilian life.
16. I limit my discussion of and participation in politics at events to that appropriate to the event historical scenario. I leave my views on current events and modern-day reenacting politics at home.
17. The greatest pleasure I derive from Civil War living history comes from the knowledge that I am re-creating the experiences of the civilians who lived during the Civil War with the greatest fidelity to history I can manage.
Thank you, Mrs Hughes! This document has been an inspiration and a guide for many years, and I hope it will continue to guide others for decades to come!