Fun & Easy Ways to Learn History: Attend Historical Re-enactments!

Hello history friends and welcome back to rememberinghistory.com where we are remembering history and we’re making history, too.

This is last part of this great and groundbreaking series on fun and easy ways to learn and be inspired by history. We have covered a lot of ground during this series!

We started, in Part I, with the decision to read, read, and read some more. I think that I almost lost some of you with that first step. Yes, I love to read but I think that you imagined that I stayed up into the wee hours of the night reading a 1,000-page history textbook (written in a tiny font). Wrong! While I appreciate the role of textbooks in education, I don’t take the view that they are the only source for teaching history. Instead, they are presenting names, dates, and events instead of telling a story.

To me, history is a collection of stories—about people. The names, dates, and events are incidental. The people are the main characters; they make the story. And the story makes history. Remember, David McCullough (my favorite historian) noted that history has to be literature or it will turn to dust. He also noted that piano teachers often complain to their students, “I hear all the notes but I hear no music.” There has to be music. Bring it all together and make music. Just imagine, we’re talking about history as literature, history as music. This is radical stuff here but it is real and authentic and, dare I say, inspirational too. Remember that biographies and narratives (like the slave narratives that I mentioned and read an excerpt from) can be uncommonly gripping and moving—and yes, they will inspire you right out of your chair!

In Part II, we focused on movies and documentaries. The movies are basically books (non-fiction novels, if you will) on the big screen. For people who don’t like to read or don’t have time to read, movies are a great way to be inspired by history.

Many movies tell the story about an actual event or person from the past. I mentioned lots of movies but that was just the tip of the iceberg. You can easily find great historical movies and be inspired by the people and their stories. Many other movies are based on books about real events in history and these can be equally inspirational. And I never want to forget or overlook the documentaries (like the ones that I mentioned about Thurgood Marshall—And Justice for All and With All Deliberate Speed) that showed the life, struggles and victories of this great man. Trust me on this one—documentaries are amazing works, well researched and well presented, and they can inspire you in ways that fictionalized works cannot.

In Part III, we moved away from books and movies to consider getting history right from the people who were there. (I failed to add that actually books and movies could supplement this method.) Talk to your elders. Many people who participated in Civil Rights Movement, Vietnam War, the Invasion of Normandy, and other great historical events are still alive. They are still able to tell their stories. Let’s listen to them. Let’s hear their experiences. Let’s ask them questions. And, most importantly, let’s remember their stories and remember THEM. They are part of history. They made history. They actually ARE history. There is nothing so moving as listening to people who were at historical events that I have only read about. But don’t wait—no one came to stay forever—so talk to and listen to the elders and get the “real” story. The real history.

Part IV was a lot of fun because we talked about actually visiting great historical sites. Books and movies are great. Talking to people who were at these historic events is incredible. But actually visiting the sites and seeing the places, really brings it all to life.

Nothing beats actually standing in a historic place and immersing yourself in it. It opens up the senses in ways that might be impossible to describe. Personally, I will never forget my experience visiting the slave cabins and cemeteries at George Washington’s plantation or visiting Auschwitz concentration camp in Poland or seeing the temple of King Kamehameha in Hawaii. Nothing can describe them fully. You gotta be there.

That led us to Part V because sometimes you simply can’t be there. So, what do you do? Go to museums. No, it is not the same thing but many museums are designed to give you that “being there” experience. They are also designed to help you to understand the situation, the person, the problem and the culture. Going to museums, libraries and exhibits are an amazingly educational and inspirational way to experience history.   Remember my “go to” museum was the British Museum in London. What is your “go to” museum?

All of these ways to learn and be inspired by history can work so well together. I hope that you don’t choose only one but try to combine them so that you get a more full and a more inspirational experience.

This brings us to Part VI of this great and groundbreaking series on 6 fun and easy ways to learn and be inspired by history. I saved this particular way for last because it is probably the most dramatic. I gave a hint in the previous blog and podcast that this way is the most fun but also the hardest to do.

So, what is it?

Attend historical Re-enactments!

What is a historical reenactment?

A historical re-enactment is when people re-enact a part of history. It could be a historical event (like a battle), a time period (like the Middle Ages), a person or group of people from history (like the Buffalo soldiers) or engage in a certain behavior, sport or activity from the past (like jousting or sword fighting). It is a huge amount of fun!

This is when things get really exciting—and sometimes just a bit weird! History re-enactments bring history to life in an amazing way. The historical setting is recreated. People dress up in clothes from the period. They basically turn into actors and immerse themselves in the reenactment. In general, the event is relived.

What kinds of things are reenacted? It could be anything. I recently attended a medieval festival in Gdansk, Poland at Castle Malbork (which is a Teutonic castle from the 1400s) where there was jousting, sword fights, archery and other types of combat. But they also had the medieval food and beer (much stronger than beer today!) Everyone was dressed up in period clothes and talked the “medieval” talk! It was amazing. And lots of fun.

I also attended a re-enactment of the Battle of Waterloo, which was fought in 1815. It was equally incredible. Yes, Napoleon was there as well as Wellington—I saw them or the actors that played them—and there must have been hundreds of people dressed as soldiers and wives of soldiers to re-enact the famous battle.

Perhaps you have heard of or attended the Renaissance Pleasure Faire—well, that’s a mild (but great) example of a historical re-enactment.

If you want to see, feel and experience a historical event, time period or see a person or group of people from history, then I strongly urge you to attend a re-enactment. Or even go to the event as a re-enactor. Many people do this in their free time. I met one medieval sword fighter who worked as an accountant during they day!

So much fun. And, yes, it is so educational and inspirational to see how events unfolded and to be a part of it. I recently learned that the Buffalo Soldiers Museum is planning re-enactments. That will definitely be an exciting and educational event. Just go and have fun! Remember that it does not have to be a reenactment of YOUR history, it can be a reenactment of any time period, person or battle.

So, that’s all I will say about historical re-enactments. They are so much fun and so inspirational and the people involved are so open and really just love history. Everyone is welcome.

Of course, I have to return to David McCullough’s quote “No harm is done to history by making it something that someone would want to read.” The same applies for history re-enactments: No harm is done to history by making it something that someone would want to experience. Or re-live. Or act out. History is pretty resilient. If your intention is right and you like and respect history, then the risk is small that you are going to harm it.

This wraps up the final part of my great and groundbreaking series on fun and easy ways to learn and be inspired by history. But I do want to respond to a few questions. Remember that I mentioned a Q & A period.

Questions & Answers:

  1. These are great ways to be inspired by history. I am new to learning history. What is the best way to start?

Thanks for your question. I always think of taking baby steps into something new. I’m glad that you have found an interest in history but I don’t want to go too hardcore at the beginning or to make you wait and lose interest. What way to start? Movies and documentaries. Everyone has experience with movies perhaps less with documentaries. But watching great movies about history is an easy, affordable and fun way to be introduced to and inspired by history. But if you do want to go hardcore, then a historical reenactment is a lot of fun and is truly a life-changing event.

  1. How do I get my kids interested in history?

Another great question! Too often, kids are first introduced to history in school where they are forced to memorize names of presidents and dates of battles. Boring! If your kids like to read, then find an age-appropriate book (there are lots of them) for your child. If your child is very young, read it to them. You can even act it out to really bring it to life for them. Another idea is to ask your parents or grandparents if they would tell stories to your children about historical events or people from history. The elders can be great storytellers and tend to have more credibility and interest from their grandchildren. Once you get that history ball rolling, the momentum will continue to grow so I’m glad that you are taking this important step.

  1. I have found a lot of false statements in some history books. I don’t know if they are just mistaken or whether they are just lying but it put me off history for a long time. How do I handle this feeling?

I completely understand your disillusionment with reading history books when you find “misinformation” or “disinformation” in them. Yes, there are myths, mistruths and downright lies in some history textbooks. Other times there are just “holes” or omissions. That can be frustrating and definitely lead to feelings of disillusionment. And, as I said, I completely understand. I’ve been there. So, what do you do? I firmly believe that we should not run away from this type of miseducation. In fact, we should face it head on and demand changes. Write to the editor, point out the problem and demand that it be fixed. Write articles or letters to newspapers and other publications about the wrong information. Most importantly, keep educating yourself. Keep learning history; the “right” history. Attacking it from the inside, I believe, has more power than being on the outside. Announce those mistakes and dis-information. Start teaching the true facts. Tell your children about history. While history is resilient (as I said earlier), it does need our protection to make sure that it stays true and that it continues to inspire. Real inspiration is never found in falsehood.

I’m so sorry that I cannot address more questions! They were so good and so important and there were many more that need and deserve my attention. But this blog post and podcast are getting long.

I hope that you have enjoyed this great and groundbreaking series on fun and easy ways to learn and be inspired by history. I hope that you have found ways that will help you. And most of all, I hope that you will be—and are—inspired by history. It has been my pleasure to host this important series and I do hope that you will return for more remembering history blog posts and podcasts.

I would love to hear your comments so please go to the Remembering History Facebook page or to the remememberinghistory.com website where you can also ask questions. I promise to answer. You will also find great information at the Wiki History Podcast page. You will find a great group of fun and friendly historians at rememberinghistory.com and on the Remembering History Facebook page. And remember that you can also find these podcasts at Stitcher.com which is radio on demand. You can also download the app from the app store. Just sit back and enjoy.

I hope to see you soon at rememberinghistory.com where we are remembering history and we’re making history.

Bye for now!